I’m inclined to agree, it does suck.
I can feel my hands starting to get clammy as my memory flashes back to the catastrophic climate events I’ve watched unfold recently.
Bearing witness to the climate crisis can feel surreal at times, yet I do not mention this to my client. I have a job to do, and it is not to escalate their rational anxieties and fears, it is to manage what is manageable; to teach coping strategies, to encourage connection to nature and social relationships, to channel their grief into sustainable action that feels meaningful.
I work closely with adolescents and young adults, and I have witnessed yet again this summer an alarming surge in feelings of anger and despair over the climate. The source of their distress is not a personal trauma or a fleeting setback; it is an existential threat that looms larger every passing day.
It is my duty to address the emotional toll this reality takes on my clients
I work within an eco-psychological framework, in which humans’ psychological interdependence with the rest of nature is a focus, along with the implications for identity, health and well-being. What these young people deeply grasp is that humans are not separate from nature – we are nature.
Watching the floods and fires unfold across various states has only deepened the anguish, for we understand that this is not just a temporary state, but a stark preview of the grim reality that awaits us for decades to come.
As a psychologist, it is my duty to address the emotional toll this reality takes on my clients, but it is increasingly difficult to offer solace when confronted with a worsening crisis.
The belief that things will not get better for many decades weighs heavily on the shoulders of young people who are inheriting a world vastly different to their parents and elders.
What troubles me the most is the profound sense of climate anxiety and grief that has settled into the hearts and minds of the young people I work with due to feeling like the political class and other adults around them are failing them. This can result in sleepless nights, racing thoughts, rumination, and an inability to concentrate or focus.
The concept of intergenerational theft and betrayal is a prevailing sentiment among the young people I support.
The anger they feel is not just about the present catastrophes but about the future they are being bequeathed – a world where the stability of life is threatened. Where safety and stability are only available to a fraction of the world’s inhabitants.
So what can people do when they’re overcome by climate grief?
I constantly return to the message that there is so much beauty and life in the world that can be saved – and is absolutely worth fighting for. I encourage people to curate their social media feeds and to seek out good news stories about the climate action around the world. I get them to envision a world that is fair; where everyone has enough resources to meet their needs. I ask them what they can do now to contribute to this world, and ask them to move towards this.
I talk to them about connection with like minded peers, and joining a local climate action group. I talk to them about nature based therapies- hiking, swimming, listening and watching wildlife, attending beach clean ups and tree planting days. I talk to them about choosing financial institutions to bank with that rule out funding fossil fuel projects. I encourage mindfulness, enjoying the present moment, working through their grief through art, and working through their stress, rage and anxiety with movement.
The research tells us that climate change will trigger and exacerbate mental illness, with young people and those from marginalised backgrounds being disproportionately impacted across their lifetimes.
Life as we know it is becoming more unstable with each passing day. The climate crisis is not an isolated problem; it intertwines with every facet of human existence, from food security and water availability to economic stability and mental well-being.
As a psychologist, I grapple with the challenge of preparing the youth for a future that holds unprecedented challenges, a future shaped by a climate that continues to break down.
Carly Dober is a psychologist living and working in Naarm/Melbourne. You can see more of her work here IG @enrichinglivespsychology
Tags: adolescents and young adults, feelings of anger and despair over the climate, The concept of intergenerational theft and betrayal is a prevailing sentiment, Watching the floods and fires