“Climate change can generate pre-traumatic stress, in anticipation of the disaster”

Professor Antoine Pelissolo is head of the psychiatry department at Henri-Mondor and Albert-Chenevier hospitals (AP-HP, Créteil). His latest work, Emotions of climate change (Flammarion, 220 pages, 19 euros), co-written with the psychiatric intern Célie Massini, explores the direct and indirect effects of global warming on mental health, and offers solutions to deal with them. Interview with a worried but optimistic psychiatrist.

How did you come up with the idea for this essay? Mainly from your daily experience, or rather from a personal interest in these subjects?

Both of them. Having long supported anxiety disorders, I see that concerns about the climate future are increasingly present in our patients. Personally, my view of these questions is mainly medical, but there is a generational effect: the young colleague with whom I wrote the book is personally concerned. She wanted to work on this theme and even made it her thesis subject.

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Beyond eco-anxiety disorders, we have looked more broadly at the effects of the environment on the psyche. We explored on the one hand the effects of acute events such as heat waves, floods or tsunamis; and on the other hand those, less brutal and less spectacular, of low-noise changes in our environment, including the role of pollution. These subjects are still relatively unknown. Research is being carried out, but it is still quite embryonic compared to what is done elsewhere in psychiatry.

How do patients with eco-anxiety present themselves in your consultations?

These are most often people who were already consulting for other reasons. Eco-anxiety is one of the themes encountered in generalized anxiety, and which becomes central to some and especially to young people.

Classically, the main subjects of anxiety are work, health and money. Concerns about the climate and ecology have been more frequent for two years, the health crisis has accentuated the phenomenon.

In my hospital, which is a specialized establishment, we see mainly severe cases, which have progressed, for example, to depression. But not all eco-anxious see a psychiatrist or psychologist, and there is not necessarily a need.

We must consider eco-anxiety as a theme that can go, in some, to a state of suffering, with symptoms in the field of anxiety disorders: panic attacks, anxiety, sleep disorders, and a whole range negative emotions. For the moment in any case, this diagnosis is not individualized as such in the classifications of psychiatric illnesses.

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“Climate change can generate pre-traumatic stress, in anticipation of the disaster”