Treatment for climate anxiety is hope

Treatment for climate anxiety is hope

World Mental Health Day is a time to break down the stigma around mental health issues and remind Australians that seeking support and treatment is the right thing to do.

But as I look at how some of us are talking about the mental health of a young woman from halfway across the world, it's clear we have a long way to go.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg made a powerful and emotional speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York a couple of weeks ago, challenging world leaders to explain their lack of action on climate change with the question: "How dare you?"

Greta's visible distress sparked a non-stop stream of speculation about her mental health and Asperger's diagnosis.

Our own Prime Minister weighed in on this by insisting that he wants children in Australia to "feel positive about their future", and cautioning against "raising the anxieties of children in our country".

As a mental health professional I couldn't agree more with Mr Morrison: Children deserve to feel positive about their future. Extreme anxiety is bad for their mental health.

But while he is trying to address the problem with tall tales about Australia's climate track record, the only appropriate cure here is actual climate action and emissions reductions.

The kids are right to be anxious. We know that rising emissions are fuelling climate change, and that climate change is worsening extreme weather events like droughts, heatwaves, and bushfires. We know that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas is one of the biggest contributors to the problem.

But Australia has no credible policy to reduce emissions at the speed and scale we need, or to transition to renewable energy, or to create new clean jobs for affected workers in the fossil fuel industry.

Given this gaping policy vacuum, and worsening extreme weather, how can kids be anything but anxious?

I'm part of a group of mental health professionals called Psychology for a Safe Climate, and we conduct workshops for people with climate anxiety and grief.

Climate anxiety has real health consequences, and we must get serious about treating it. Empty words aren't going to make people feel better; hope is.

The only antidote now is tangible climate action.

Charles Le Feuvre is a psychiatrist and vice-president, Psychology for a Safe Climate