Depression v. Climate Anxiety
We’re now all familiar with depression. Climate anxiety is not just a thing, but a rapidly growing thing, especially among young people.
This is not surprising. The younger you are, the longer you’ll have to live with the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction.
Assuming, of course, you’re fortunate enough to live as long as we currently expect to.
The climate crisis has triggered a mental health crisis. Around the world, parents, teachers, counsellors, priests, social scientists, politicians and psychiatrists are all struggling to work out how to deal with something that’s now being identified as ‘climate anxiety’.
- Professionals who work in mental health are responding in the way they’ve been trained. They conduct research, like this recent Lancet paper called Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey Having medicalised the problem, they seek and propose medical solutions.
- Meanwhile, parents are trying to convince their children that they should have children. Government and employers are alarmed at the growing phenomenon of ‘quiet quitting‘, urging young people to take careers seriously.
- The perennial panic about illegal drugs has taken a new twist, as if they’re the main culprits to blame for ‘blighting the lives of our young people’. The implication is that if only the youth abandoned their dangerous addition to damaging recreational drugs they take to alleviate their existential dread, their existential dread would go away too.
In short, we’re using the same standard-issue grab-bag of treatments available as we use for depression; pills, talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, government campaigns etc..
These two conditions are easily confused. They share symptoms: low mood, fatigue, lack of motivation, low self-worth.
But their causes are entirely different.
How To Cure Depression & Climate Anxiety
Why are we treating these two conditions as if they have the same cause, just because the symptoms are the same?
The best cure for any malady is to remove the cause.
We’ve written elsewhere about the standard treatment for depression, but at least have some idea of the options available, even if they don’t appear to be having much success in suppressing a spreading epidemic.
Climate anxiety poses different problems. In one sense, it’s pretty simple, as the cause is perfectly plain.
While immediate, concerted, urgent, radical action to draw down carbon won’t make everything ‘normal’ again, it would mitigate the most catastrophic impacts on our species of our sudden tinkering with planetary physics.
We’d suggest this may have a better chance of diminishing some of the climate anxiety epidemic. Unlike depression, caused by irrational fear, climate anxiety is based on rational analysis.
So let’s say we all wake up tomorrow, decide to get our act together now, and keep carbon in the ground.
Let’s say our leaders re-prioritise their to-do list. They cross out ‘national interest’, ‘blame someone else’ and ‘popular’. They replace them with reversing the impacts of greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss etc.
Let’s imagine our politicians stop trying to convince us there’s a ‘normal’ to which we can revert. Instead, they start explaining their least worst solutions to adapting to the climate change that’s already baked in.
This wouldn’t return us all to the ‘normal’ we’re encouraged to still think possible. Nor would it prevent many very bad things from happening. It might, however, help alleviate some of the symptoms of climate anxiety.
So here’s our guide to spotting the difference between depression and climate anxiety:
- One gives you the irrational illusion you should be able to fix it yourself.
- The other gives you the rational belief you can’t.
Our cure then: tell our politicians to revise their to-do lists.