Eco-anxiety: How thinking about climate
change-related environmental decline is affecting
our mental health
You would be hard-pressed in 2019 not to be aware of
the worldwide social movement and protests relating to
climate change. In September this year, millions of
school children and adults around the world took to
the street demanding urgent action in response to esca-
lating concerns relating to the environment. Further-
more, the United Nations Climate Summit in New
York described climate change as the deﬁning issue of
our time and the Australian Medical Association
recently declared climate change as a health emergency
following the lead of many international medical bod-
ies. Clearly, our climate is changing; we are experienc-
ing weather events that are more frequent and intense,
and last longer (Jackman et al. 2018). As a result, all
health professionals have an important role to play in
this regard in the future.
Although the issue of climate change usually brings
thoughts of environmental impact and physical health
concerns to our consciousness, climate change also
affects people’s mental health. We have known of the
impact of climate change-induced weather events and
natural disasters on our mental health for some time
now; these events cause issues including sleep disor-
ders, stress, anxiety, depression, and the development
of posttraumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation
(Warsini et al. 2014). There is less research, however,
on the mental and emotional consequences caused by
the awareness of the slow and gradual changes in the
environment (Pihkala 2018), a direct result of climate
change. We are not as aware of the longer-term
impacts, such as the effect of climate change on agri-
culture and the liveability of towns and cities, and the
outcome on our mental health (Clayton et al. 2017).
Anyone who lives in a rural area of Australia will be
aware of the current impact of the unprecedented
weather events causing the current drought, which in
turn, has led to severe degradation of the rural envi-
ronment. Just ask a farmer in New South Wales what
their farm looks like at this present time. Pictures of
desolate, wind-swept paddocks, and dust storms come
to mind as well as fears of ﬁres as the remaining
vegetation turns crisp. These conditions cause consider-
able distress to many people, not only farmers as entire
communities feel the impact of climate change.
But why are we experiencing negative emotional
and mental states as a result of climate change
impacts? This could be explained by the biophilia
hypothesis (Wilson 1984), which posits that humans
have an innate connection with the natural world and
derive psychological and well-being beneﬁts from this
afﬁliation. However, climate change-related adverse
environmental impacts are disrupting this connection
resulting in feelings of loss due to changes to person-
ally signiﬁcant places (e.g. one’s home, community, nat-
ural habitats, and precious ecosystems), a phenomenon
known as ‘ecological grief’ (Cunsolo & Ellis 2018).
Knowing about the changing environmental condi-
tions and the associated mental distress this causes and
that these problems will get worse with rising tempera-
tures is manifested as eco-anxiety (Clayton et al. 2017),
or solastalgia (Albrecht 2005), or if you prefer, eco-
angst (Goleman 2009). Put simply, eco-anxiety is a
speciﬁc form of anxiety relating to stress or distress
caused by environmental changes and our knowledge
of them. There is no speciﬁc diagnosis of ‘Eco-anxiety’.
Self-reported presentations may include panic attacks,
insomnia, obsessive thinking, and/or appetite changes
caused by environmental concerns (Castelloe 2018).
As a result of eco-anxiety, people are becoming anx-
ious about their future (Pihkala 2018) and the future of
the planet as we currently know it. As an outcome of
developing awareness of the impact of climate change
on the environment, some people are spurred to act,
such as those we mentioned earlier who protested
recently, while others become overwhelmed and anx-
ious; while the anxiety for some people is so intense,
they become paralysed and cannot act. This is what
Albrecht (2011) calls eco-paralysis where people
become so distressed by the issue; they are unable to
act, sometimes misinterpreted as apathy.
Our climate and our environment are changing.
Mental health nurses and other mental health
©2019 Australian College of Mental Health Nurses Inc.
International Journal of Mental Health Nursing (2019) 28, 1233–1234 doi: 10.1111/inm.12673
professionals need to take a leading role in reducing
and responding to the distress related to climate
change. We have an opportunity to minimize the nega-
tive impacts of climate change on mental health
through our work with individuals, families, and com-
munities. We are trained to provide support for devel-
oping active coping skills and self-efﬁcacy as well as
promoting hope and social connectedness, as climate
change adaptation strategies, to combat psychological
distress. We should champion evidence-based climate-
related mental health communication to build commu-
nity resilience, share our expertise on environmental
inﬂuences on mental health through research and pol-
icy brieﬁngs at local, state, and federal level, and sup-
port climate solutions. We must also take a leading role
in helping to ease the burden of our personal impact
and of our services on the environment by modelling
pro-environmental behaviours, such as reducing waste,
increasing reuse and recycling, and by raising public
awareness of climate mitigation strategies (e.g. clean
energy, water resilience).
We realize that there is no single solution for this
wicked problem of climate anxiety. However, we can
address it through our collective action at individual,
community, and more broadly, at a national and global
level. This will indeed require strong leadership and
, Joanne Durkin
and Navjot Bhullar
School of Health, and
School of Psychology,
University of New England, Armidale, New South
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©2019 Australian College of Mental Health Nurses Inc.