Jennifer Atkinson interviewed in Discover Magazine

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IAS faculty member Jennifer Atkinson was interviewed in Discover Magazine for a feature piece on mental health impacts of climate change. As she explained, “People who’ve directly experienced a climate-fueled disaster often experience chronic anxiety and depression in the aftermath, or post traumatic stress, substance abuse, suicide or suicidal thoughts, sleep disorders, and more. Not surprisingly, poor and marginalized communities and communities of color are suffering the heaviest climate impacts and therefore the most dramatic emotional toll.”

In elaborating on the range of emotional responses people experience in the face of climate breakdown, Atkinson told Discover journalist Carla Delgado that “you don’t have to be a survivor of a full-blown climate disaster to suffer from anxiety or grief over the climate crisis." As Delgado's article summarized:

"People can feel anxious about the impact of climate change or feel a sense of powerlessness arising from an immense, existential threat. For Indigenous peoples who have a close relationship with the environment, climate change is not only a huge threat to their livelihoods, but also their cultures, identities, and ways of life. 'Different people have different levels of vulnerability or security,' says Atkinson. 'There are vast differences in the way our climate crisis impacts mental health when we compare the global north to more vulnerable communities across the global south, or look at differences across racial, socio-economic, ethnic, and age groups.'"

The interview also touched on ways people can manage climate despair. As Delgado wrote:

"Individuals who are distressed by the effects of climate change may benefit from seeking community and being surrounded by people who feel the same way about the environment, says Atkinson, which can help with processing feelings of isolation and grief. 'It's important to give ourselves permission to feel sadness and fear and outrage – that’s the only way to fully process it and then move forward to action,' she says. 'Any loss not fully confronted and grieved can lead to numbness, repression, cynicism, or apathy.'

Some individuals find that living sustainably, like reducing waste and making lifestyle changes to be more environmentally friendly, helps them deal with the feelings of helplessness catalyzed by the climate crisis. (Although certain seemingly eco-friendly efforts, however, may not be as sustainable as you might think.) Experts agree that it's also important to build collective action and work together when it comes to environmental issues, like participating in climate protests, getting involved with community projects, or joining climate change awareness campaigns on social media.

'The important thing about making that first step toward concrete action is that it exercises our civic muscles and builds hope through solidarity,' says Atkinson. 'Personal actions are important, but they pale in comparison to what we can achieve through coordinated political action. We don't have fifty years to solve this by gradual personal change.'"

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