Climate Mental Health
Move Through Grief
People have different ways of handling stress, anxiety, and loss that they experience as they learn about or experience climate change impacts. Understanding the five stages of grief in the context of climate change can help us empathize with others and identify where in the grief process they may be.
Leslie Davenport, a leading climate psychologist, and the Good Grief Network offer the following strategies to move through climate grief and build resilience.
Admit there is a problem
Climate change is happening because of how people have behaved and are behaving on this planet. Have youth acknowledge the ways that individuals have contributed to climate change.
Allow feelings, don't fight, and be curious
Encourage youth to allow feelings of climate grief, and to not fight them. Reassure them that it is okay to feel what they feel. Ask youth to have kind curiosity about their feelings. Don't try to fix their feelings.
Be aware of physical feelings
Have students be aware of how they are experiencing grief in their bodies (physical feelings like tension in shoulders, etc.) when they talk about climate change topics. Awareness of these feelings makes it easier to recognize when they come up.
Use creativity to focus on "what we can do" not "what have we done"
Foster creative expression. For example, use the design-thinking process to engage youth's creativity in finding solutions to climate change in their communities, such as painting the school roof white to decrease the need for air conditioning. Support youth in finding creative ways to process the complex emotions associated with climate change, such as through art or music.
Be aware of how ideas or assumptions may be distorted
If youth think "I can't make a difference," have them consider whether this is true. People tend to amplify and add layers of self-judgment and filter out relevant and positive aspects of the situation. Youth should try to be skeptical about sweeping judgments that tend to repeat themselves and get trapped in their heads. Have them try zooming out to the "Big Picture"- the Earth WILL prevail, and life will go on, though it may look different.
Take a break when burnt out
Have youth take breaks and respect their limits when they feel burnt out on learning about or discussing climate change impacts. Encourage them to let go for a while: They are not alone in addressing these challenges- The world is not going to fall apart if they take a break for a while. Trust that others are working on finding solutions.
Heal from past trauma to reconnect with the natural world
Encourage youth to heal from past trauma, whether related to climate events or other trauma, by finding and accepting support, connecting with others, exercising, practicing self-care, and practicing mindfulness, especially in nature.
Look for beauty and meaning
Notice and focus on the small things that bring joy. For example, have students write a gratitude journal in which they note something they are grateful for every day.
Join support groups
Make youth aware of climate support resources and others who may feel grief and anxiety, and remind them they are not alone in their grief. Encourage youth to work through their grief through collective action, like in an afterschool club or with a youth group (Take Action). How can they use these feelings to facilitate action?