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Mental health could be the next casualty of global warming

Daniela Sirtori-Cortina, Bloomberg News on

Published in Health & Fitness

The idea of “re-earthing,” or strengthening the connection between individuals and the planet, is gaining support as a way of both increasing environmental awareness and staving off despair, according to clinical psychologist Elizabeth Allured. Along similar lines, Portland, Oregon-based psychologist Thomas Doherty said he encourages people to explore their environmental identity. Though a relatively new concept, some broad classifications could include “egocentric” (inspired by personal benefit), “altruistic” (concern for others), or “Earth-based” (seeking to protect the natural world for its own sake). People often showcase a mix of these motivations, according to Doherty.

Different environmental identities lead some to try different paths—from working to save endangered species to securing access to clean water or reducing waste. Doherty has treated everyone from a teenager dealing with climate grief to a septuagenarian economist and environmentalist grappling with the sense of having “lost” the battle. He also offers courses for practitioners.

“If you don’t really have any kind of environmental-identity basis, it’s like an empty box that you’re trying to put a heavy thing on,” Doherty said. “It just collapses.”

Rowan Ryrie, 39, discovered her climate identity after wondering for a long time how parents like her could organize around global warming issues. After attending a demonstration in Oxford, in the U.K., she chose to embark on a bigger environmental enterprise.

Eventually, she co-founded a global advocacy network called Parents for Future. Menezes in Brazil and Nnabueze in Nigeria steer national groups that are part of the organization. “I feel connected with parents all over the world who are trying to do the same climate work that I’m trying to do,” Ryrie said. “That’s really heartening. It gives me a lot of hope.”

 

In Nigeria, Nnabueze, who is also an artist, makes sculptures out of litter and works to reclaim indigenous knowledge on waste management through skills such as basketweaving, a more sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Stephanie Felts in the U.S. writes open letters to her daughters, posting them to the Good Grief Network, a digital space to discuss distress over topics ranging from global warming to the coronavirus. She said sharing her thoughts with like-minded people can bring relief.

Then there’s Sophia Kianni, a 19-year-old Iranian-American activist who founded a nonprofit that translates climate research into 100 languages, all while serving on a United Nations advisory group and attending college. Kianni came up with the idea for her nonprofit while visiting relatives in Iran, where pollution was so bad she could hardly see the stars at night. She realized climate information was only available in select languages, and so she started translating it from English into Farsi.

For Ryrie, advocacy can mean constructing protest signs with her daughters. Her 7-year-old has mastered the art of making placards featuring technicolor birds, even if she doesn’t always spell “I love nature” right. Sometimes, headlines still rattle Ryrie, forcing her to take a step back.

“Facing climate breakdown while also thinking about your kids inevitably brings up some really hard feelings,” she said. “I’ve realized that allowing space for emotions is important in this work.”

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