Climate change is wreaking havoc on our mental health

Categories: Big picture
Published on: March 1, 2016

Toronto Star / Tyler Hamilton / 28 February 2016

wave breaksAs a provincial coroner and past palliative care physician, Dr. David Ouchterlony has seen suffering and death up close, experiences that have occasionally led to brief moments of sadness. But Ouchterlony describes such emotions as “trivial” compared to the dread he feels when thoughts about climate change linger, as they often do. He worries almost obsessively about a future he won’t see. How will younger generations be affected? Why are we failing to act on the threat?

“I was completely blind to it, and then five years ago it just hit me,” Ouchterlony, 74, said. “I went through this stage of losing sleep, thinking about my grandchild, wondering what I could do.”

He described the feeling as an “absence of hope” characterized by despair and, at times, exhausting guilt. Some researchers have called it a “pre-traumatic” stress disorder that, in some, is feeding anxiety and depressive thoughts.

Ouchterlony isn’t alone. Signs of mental distress related to climate change have appeared in vulnerable populations, from drought-stricken prairie farmers to isolated aboriginal communities and the scientists who crunch climate data.

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