Australians are 3 times more worried about climate change than COVID. A mental health crisis looms




Rhonda garad, Monash University; Joanne Enticot, Monash University, and Rebecca Patrick, Deakin University

As of this writing, the Delta strain of COVID-19 is reminding the world that the pandemic is far from over, with millions of Australians in confinement and infection rates exceeding a global vaccination effort.

In the northern hemisphere, record-breaking temperatures in the form of heating domes recently caused uncontrollable “firebombs”, while unprecedented flooding disrupted millions of people. Hundreds of lives have been lost due to heat stress, drownings and fires.

The catastrophic twin threat of climate change and a pandemic has created a “time of unbeliefâ€. It’s not surprising many Australians find it difficult to cope.

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, we collected nationwide data from 5,483 adults across Australia on how climate change is affecting their mental health. In our new paper, we found that while Australians are concerned about COVID-19, they are almost three times more concerned about climate change.

This Australians are very worried about climate change is not a new discovery. But our study goes further, warning of a looming epidemic of mental health-related disorders such as eco-anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) linked to climate disasters, and hopelessness-oriented despair. to come up.

Which Australians are the most worried?

We asked Australians to compare their concerns about climate change, COVID, retirement, health, aging and employment, using a four-point scale (responses ranging from ‘not a problem’ to “really a problem”).

A high level of concern about climate change has been reported in the general population, regardless of gender, age or place of residence (city or rural, disadvantaged or wealthy areas). Women, young adults, the affluent, and middle-aged people (aged 35 to 54) showed the highest levels of concern about climate change.

Read more: The rise of “eco-anxiety”: climate change is also affecting our mental health

Children (aged 35 to 54) may be particularly worried because they are or are considering parenting and may be worried about the future of their children.

The high level of worry among young Australians (aged 18-34) is not surprising, as they inherit the greatest existential crisis facing a generation. This age group has expressed its concern through numerous campaigns such as the School strike 4 Climate, and several successful litigation.

Among those surveyed in the wealthier groups, 78% said they were worried about high. But climate change was still an issue for people outside of this group (42%) compared to concerns over COVID (27%).

We have also found that many of those who have directly experienced a climate-related disaster – bushfires, floods, extreme heat waves – have reported symptoms consistent with PTSD. This includes recurring memories of the traumatic event, feelings of being on guard, easily surprised, and nightmares.

Others have reported significant symptoms of pre-trauma and eco-anxiety. These include recurring nightmares about future trauma, poor concentration, insomnia, tears in my eyes, hopelessness, and relationship and work difficulties.

Overall, we have found that the inevitability of climate threats limits the ability of Australians to feel optimistic about their future, more than their anxieties about COVID.

How do people deal with their climate concern?

Our research also provides insight into what people are doing to manage their mental health in the face of the looming threat of climate change.

Rather than seeking professional mental health support, such as counselors or psychologists, many Australians said they self-prescribe their own remedies, such as being in natural settings (67%) and taking medication for themselves. positive climate action (83%), where possible.

Many said they built their resilience through individual actions (like limiting their use of plastic), joining community actions (like volunteering), or joining advocacy efforts to influence policy and raise awareness.

Read more: In landmark judgment, Federal Court found Minister of the Environment owed a duty of care to young people

Indeed, our research at the start of the year have shown that environmental volunteering has benefits for mental health, such as improved connection with place and learning about the environment.

It’s both ironic and understandable that Australians want to be in natural environments to reduce their climate anxiety. Events such as mega fires of 2019 and 2020 may be renewing Australians’ understanding and appreciation of the value of nature in improving the quality of their lives. There is now a lot of research showing green spaces are improving psychological well-being.

Walking in nature can improve your mental well-being. Sebastian Pichler / Unsplash

An impending epidemic

Our research sheds light on the growing and profound mental health burden of Australians.

As the global temperature rises and climate-related disasters increase in frequency and severity, this mental health burden is likely to worsen. More and more people will suffer from symptoms of PTSD, ecological anxiety and more.

Read more: A new poll shows that 79% of Australians care about climate change. So why is the government not listening?

What is of great concern is that people are not seeking professional mental health care to deal with concerns related to climate change. On the contrary, they find their own solutions. The lack of effective climate change policy and Australian government action is also likely to add to collective desperation.

As Harriet Ingle and Michael Mikulewicz – a neuropsychologist and human geographer from the United Kingdom – wrote in their 2020 article:

For many, the disturbing reality of climate change translates into a sense of powerlessness to improve the situation, leaving them with an unresolved sense of loss, helplessness and frustration.

It is imperative that public health responses to climate change at the individual, community and political levels be put in place. Governments must respond to calls from the health sector for effective climate-related responses, to prevent an impending mental health crisis.

If this article has raised any issues for you, or if you are concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The conversation

Rhonda garad, lecturer and researcher in knowledge translation, Monash University; Joanne Enticot, Principal Investigator, Monash Center for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI), Monash University, and Rebecca Patrick, Director, Sustainable Health Network, Deakin University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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