The Climate Crisis’s Toll on Mental Wellbeing

By Thierry Malleret, economist

The science of climate psychology (the climate crisis’s impact on mental wellbeing) goes back roughly 15 years. There is fast-rising global evidence that it dramatically increases anxiety, stress and depression, and that humans as a species now live in a state of increasing “systemic uncertainty,” a psychological condition that takes a huge toll on mental wellbeing. Malleret discusses the looming issue and why the climate crisis poses a particular challenge to our mental health.  

The world is becoming slowly but inexorably messier, like a slow burn punctuated by occasional major crises like the one occurring between Israel and Hamas. Macro risks are on the rise and are amplifying each other’s effects. The global outlook is increasingly crisis-prone due to a combination of (1) geopolitical turmoil, (2) political polarization and radicalization, (3) and economic “belt-tightening,” as high interest rates crunch capital and narrow fiscal space. And this doesn’t even factor in the all-engulfing impact of the climate crisis, that reverberates across all the other macro issues.  

The science of climate psychology and its effect on mental wellbeing goes back approximately 15 years. In 2011, a landmark paper published in American Psychologist argued that global climate change would likely “have significant negative effects on mental health and wellbeing, effects that will be felt most by vulnerable populations and those with pre-existing serious mental illness.”  

There is now plenty of evidence, all over the world, that the climate crisis dramatically increases symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. Last year, a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that half of American adults report that climate change is impacting the mental health of their family and friends, while more than half are anxious about impact of climate change on future generations.  

Many different global polls and surveys come to the same conclusion, observing that humans as a species now live in a state of increasing “systemic uncertainty,” a psychological condition not conducive (to put it mildly) to mental wellbeing. The climate crisis poses a particular challenge because it combines the emotions of experiencing a loss (that of nature, of Earth) with the constant dilemmas associated with ethics and possible social criticism (what shall I do, what shall I consume, how shall I travel, etc.).  

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