Shanti Menon 4 minute read

Climate change and your mental health


The physical impacts of climate change are easy to see — storms that destroy homes, droughts that cripple farms and heat waves that kill. 

But what’s less apparent is the toll that climate change is taking on our mental health. More than two-thirds of people in the U.S. say they have experienced eco-anxiety, according to an American Psychological Association poll. Nearly half of young adults (ages 18-34) say the stress they feel about climate change affects their daily lives.

We sat down with climate and mental health expert Elizabeth Bechard of Moms Clean Air Force to discuss this growing crisis, and how to cope. Bechard is a senior policy analyst at Moms and the author of Parenting in a Changing Climate.

How does climate change impact mental health?  

Elizabeth Bechard headshot
Elizabeth Bechard is a senior policy analyst at Moms Clean Air Force. (

There are so many ways, and we’re discovering more every day. There are direct impacts from the trauma of living through a hurricane, wildfire or extreme heat — people may be forced to leave their homes or witness frightening events, and we’ve seen that this can cause PTSD. 

Heat waves have been associated with increased anxiety, depression and suicide rates, as well as aggression and violence. Air pollution has been linked to increased anxiety, depression and use of mental health services. 

In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, the number of people who experience mental health problems can outweigh those with physical injuries 40 to 1 after a natural disaster.

There are also more indirect or chronic impacts. People’s livelihoods can be affected by slow moving weather changes, like farmers experiencing extended drought. 

And there’s climate anxiety —  this worry, this fear of what might happen in the future, to our kids. A lot of people feel grief or guilt. 

It’s important to remember that these painful emotions are an entirely reasonable response to what’s happening. They’re a sign that we care and that we’re paying attention, not a sign that something is wrong with us.

How did you get into this field? 

Several years ago, when I was a relatively new mother of twins, Hurricane Florence devastated the area where my family is from in North Carolina, my mother’s line. And then just weeks later came a report that said we had 12 years left to avert the worst climate catastrophes. That would be the span of my twins’ childhoods.

I thought, what kind of world have I brought my kids into? I developed quite debilitating climate anxiety. And even with my background in clinical research and integrative health coaching, I couldn’t find resources to cope. 

At the same time, I had clients who were trying to have kids, and I would hear things like, “Do the babies even want to come into this world?” And I thought, oh my gosh. This is something I have to focus on: how to make the world a place where the babies want to come. 

So I got a public health degree, and did my master’s thesis on climate change and parent mental health. Now I’m senior policy analyst at the advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force, leading their work on climate change and mental health

Being part of a community helps people cope, doesn’t it? 

Yes! This is too much to carry alone. Climate change is an existential crisis, and we need each other to get through this. 

People in a grief circle, a place where people can discuss issues that make them anxious, in a field
Peer support groups can help people cope with grief, anxiety and other emotional responses to climate change. (Good Grief/Avichai Scher)

Finding community, people you can talk to openly and honestly, can be invaluable. Maybe it’s a family member or close friend, or maybe you need to find support elsewhere. 

For example, I just moderated a climate cafe near where I live in Vermont — it’s a facilitated group where people can come together to talk about how they’re feeling about climate change. It’s not therapy, but it is therapeutic to express things you’ve been worried about. 

I’ve also personally seen a climate-aware therapist, specially trained in these issues, and found it very helpful.

What are some other ways to cope with climate emotion?

Research shows that collective action — participating in action to make this better, alongside other people who care — can help reduce feelings of depression related to climate anxiety and bolster feelings of hope and solidarity. 

Actively participating in climate solutions is a potent reminder that solutions do exist. There’s so much we can do to contribute to the world we want. At Moms, we’re advocating for legislation that will invest $36 million in expanding mental wellness programs in places hit by extreme weather and climate disasters. 

A second thing, I feel like professionally we don’t talk about it enough, are strategies like turning to spirituality. Many people feel like climate change is an existential crisis, and personally meaningful spiritual practices — whether it’s your faith, meditation, spending time in nature — can help ground you in difficult times. 

And finally, I would say, be prepared. We all know that extreme weather is here to stay. Having an emergency plan can really help ease anxiety and help us cope more skillfully and calmly in moments of crisis.  

Your community should have resilience plans, too. In Vermont, when we had extreme flooding last summer, my friend started a spreadsheet on Facebook, listing who needed their basement mucked out. She basically became the town’s emergency manager because she started this spreadsheet! But there could have been a plan for that. 

The legislation we’re supporting will also help fund community-based resilience programs so people are better prepared to cope with climate disruptions. 

Hope for a warming planet

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