JAN 18, 2018 6:59 AM PST

Is climate change stressing you out? You're not alone

Does climate change keep you up at night? Between thinking about wildfires and ocean acidification and starving polar bears (that video was a tear-jerker, wasn’t it?), climate change certainly does give us a lot to ponder during those long, insomniac nights. In fact, in a new study from the University of Arizona, researchers determined that many people’s mental health is negatively impacted by how they perceive the threat of climate change.

Is climate change taking a toll on your mental health? Photo: Twenty20

In one of the first studies of its kinds looking at the psychological effects that global climate change is having on humans, the research found that people’s responses range from depression to high stress to almost no anxiety at all. Sabrina Helm, one of the scientists investigating the topic, explains that this range is accounted for on the basis of how concerned or connected people are for/to the environment. The people who are highly concerned about the planet's animals and plants report feeling the most stress.

One interesting aspect of the study, which was published in the journal Global Environmental Change, is how Helm and her colleagues differentiated between three types of environmental concern: egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric. Egoistic is concern about how what's happening in the environment directly impacts the individual; for example, if your house is close to the ocean and getting flooded by rising sea levels. Altruistic concern refers to concern for humanity in general, including future generations. Biospheric concern refers to concern for nature, plants, and animals.

Of the 342 survey participants the scientists asked, the type of concern that an individual felt played into the amount of stress they felt. For example, those who reported high levels of biospheric concern also reported feeling the most stressed about global climate change and were most likely to report signs of depression. Meanwhile, the people whose concerns were more egoistic or altruistic did not report significant stress due to climate change.

"People who worry about animals and nature tend to have a more planetary outlook and think of bigger picture issues," Helm said. "For them, the global phenomenon of climate change very clearly affects these bigger picture environmental things, so they have the most pronounced worry because they already see it everywhere. We already talk about the extinction of species and know it's happening. For people who are predominantly altruistically concerned or egoistically concerned about their own health, or maybe their own financial future, climate change does not hit home yet."

Those are the key words right there – “hit home yet”. If you feel like climate change is already an urgent presence that requires attention and management in your daily life, you are more likely to take action than if you feel like it’s looming in the future. That can explain why people with high levels of biospheric concern were most likely to recycle and participate in other eco-friendly activities.

Helm and colleagues say that understanding people’s different concerns and motivations can help in creating environmental outreach programs that are better attuned to individuals’ needs.

"Climate change has evident physical and mental health effects if you look at certain outcomes, such as the hurricanes we had last year, but we also need to pay very close attention to the mental health of people in everyday life, as we can see this, potentially, as a creeping development," Helm said. "Understanding that there are differences in how people are motivated is very important for finding ways to address this, whether in the form of intervention or prevention."

Sources: Science Daily, Global Environmental Change

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 30, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Using Iron Waste to Clean Pesticides
JUL 30, 2021
Using Iron Waste to Clean Pesticides
Groundwater is something most people use every day. Whether for drinking, washing, or growing the food you eat, it is pa ...
AUG 12, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Cultivation Negatively Impacts the Environment
AUG 12, 2021
Cannabis Cultivation Negatively Impacts the Environment
Cannabis cultivation may have several damaging effects on the environment. The corresponding study was published in the& ...
AUG 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Reducing our Waste Problem
AUG 27, 2021
Reducing our Waste Problem
The generation of waste in most of our lives is astounding. We throw much of what we use in the garbage. On average, Ame ...
SEP 10, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Wildfire Effects on Air Quality
SEP 10, 2021
Wildfire Effects on Air Quality
Wildfires are becoming a common occurrence in the Western US, and wildfires are expected to increase in severity and num ...
SEP 27, 2021
Plants & Animals
Nearly 90% Of Amazonian Plants And Animals Have Been Affected By Wildfires
SEP 27, 2021
Nearly 90% Of Amazonian Plants And Animals Have Been Affected By Wildfires
Wildfires and increasing levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest are not new challenges; in fact, Brazil has lo ...
OCT 18, 2021
Plants & Animals
Reducing Jet Fuel Emissions Using Plant-Based Fuel
OCT 18, 2021
Reducing Jet Fuel Emissions Using Plant-Based Fuel
Airplanes have certainly revolutionized global travel, allowing people to traverse our wide world with relative ease. Bu ...
Loading Comments...