Climate change also affects mental health. It’s called eco-anxiety – Chicago Tribune

St. Petersburg, Florida — Anna Lynn Heine has thought about dropping out of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg more times than she cares to admit.

Or you work in a newsroom and wonder what the point is.

Anxiety about the future of the planet has also prevented this 21-year-old from enjoying dinner with family or a few drinks with friends. A plastic cup can send her into an existential spiral.

“Where does this food come from? Where is this plastic going and how many fossil fuels have been burned to get it to my table? “And will this end up in a landfill if I don’t finish it?”

Mental health professionals have a term for the stress and grief that many feel about the future of the planet: eco-anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines it as “chronic fear of environmental doom”. It can cause anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Nature study published in September surveyed 10,000 young people from 10 countries and found that most respondents are “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about climate change. Almost half of them stated that anxiety about the weather affects their daily lives.

Heine is an environmental studies student who participates in Jo Huxster’s climate change communication class at Eckerd College. The assistant professor of environmental studies said that almost every student in her class has ecoanxiety.

Huxster’s course examines the psychology of climate denial and the ways in which different sectors—the media, government, business—discuss climate change. Students learn how to run an organizing campaign to address climate politics and ways to talk about it with climate deniers and the apathetic.

Heine, who grew up mostly in Miami and Key West, said what worries him most is the growing threat of natural disasters due to climate change and the suffering that will occur based on class and race.

He mourns his hometown of Miami, where scientists predict rising sea levels will displace nearly a third of today’s population by the end of the century.

“It’s going to be a painful ending,” Heine said, “and it’s going to happen unfairly.”

Anxiety about the future of the planet surfaces more and more in the sessions that Orlando therapist Kaley Sinclair has with her clients.

Sinclair, a mental health counselor and trauma specialist, said her teen and young adult clients talk about a sense of doom about the environment. Those with young children, or thinking of having them, face the guilt of forcing the next generation to inherit a hotter, less habitable world.

Many, he said, are survivors of childhood trauma, struggling with a pervasive feeling of insecurity.

Sinclair didn’t learn how to treat anxiety or climatic pain in graduate school, but she realized that the number of clients needing professional help will only grow. In February, she joined the Climate Psychiatry Alliance (CPA), a professional group that offers resources and training.

The Alliance created the Climate Conscious Therapists Directory, a resource to help people find therapists who are committed to recognizing that the climate crisis is a threat to physical and mental health. There are about 100 therapists on the directory, but Sinclair is one of only two in Florida.

About a third of his clients have expressed anxiety or pain about the environment. Your response is tailored to each client, but encourages them to stay in the present and think of constructive ways to improve their feelings.

“Well, what can you control?” Sinclair often tells them. “What can you do to try to make a difference, while also validating that a lot of things are out of your control?”

Huxster often tells his students that the best thing any individual can do is talk about the climate crisis. About 70 percent of the American population knows climate change is real, she said, but only 30 percent talk about it. He hopes to turn attention to effective climate action: ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy and the electrification of transport.

“Your own carbon footprint is very small,” Huxster said. “The most important thing about your actions is how they affect the actions of the people around you.”

A love of the ocean brought one of Huxster’s Eckerd students, Anya Cervantes, from suburban Massachusetts to Florida to study the environment. Fear of the oceans fuels her eco-anxiety.

This 22-year-old is a licensed diver. She finds peace underwater, among swaying corals, a vibrant ecosystem that supports a quarter of all marine life.

“It’s a spiritual experience for me,” he said.

His dream is to see Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is already 60 percent bleached due to heat stress. He hopes to get there in time to see what’s left, but he too feels guilty for wanting to go (the United Nations predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from airplanes will triple by 2050).

Huxster’s class has helped Cervantes think about how he can combine his passion for environmental justice and his second major, visual arts, into a career that could help solve problems facing the world.

Although the 22-year-old can’t imagine not dedicating herself to mitigating the climate crisis, she is also frustrated by the pressure her generation is under to solve it.

“The younger generation is almost put on a pedestal to save the planet,” he said. “And we didn’t actually create this problem.”

For Huxster, researching climate change—confronting dire data almost daily—is a source of anxiety. She has a two-and-a-half-year-old son and worries about what the future will be like for him and the people she will meet.

But her work also makes her feel good. This semester, she said, three students decided to pursue a career in climate science translation for different audiences. Every year they sign up for their course, with capacity for 25 people, more students than the limit capacity of the course.

The teacher spends the last week of her class talking about eco-anxiety and grief.

Students share how they feel and read a chapter from Per Espen Stoknes’ book What We Think About When We’re Trying Not To Think About Global Warming.

The chapter, titled It’s Hopeless but I’ll Give It All, talks about taking action even when the odds are overwhelming.

Heine admits that she needs to find a way to care about the climate that is sustainable for her mental health and so she can still get up every day and work through it all.

He knows that he will not drop out of school. She will finish the essay. And she plans to have children.

“I would not prevent [que hubiera] a new life that could build things to be better, just out of fear. I prefer to try to continue building the future”.

For more information on the directory of climate-conscious therapists, visit

If you need help

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, contact the Tampa Bay Crisis Center by dialing 211 or visiting You can also call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting the word TALK at 741741 or online using, as well as chat with someone online at

Veterans can call the Tampa Bay Crisis Center Veterans Support Line at 1-844-693-5838 or visit The National Veterans Crisis Line can provide help 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, texting 838255 or via online chat at

  • Times photojournalist Arielle Bader contributed to this report



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