Laelia Benoit is a child psychiatrist and researcher associated with the Epidemiology and Population Health Research Center at Inserm, in Paris. She is currently conducting a large study on the impact of climate change on the well-being and mental health of children and adolescents at the Yale Child Study Center (Yale School of Medicine) at Yale University (New Haven ), in the USA.
Is Eco Anxiety A Mental Illness?
Ecoanxiety is a natural and legitimate reaction to the ecological crisis. It is not a disease. It’s not a new form of depression, and it doesn’t call for medical treatment: eco-anxiety calls for a social response. More and more young people will suffer from eco-anxiety. But make no mistake about it: it is their loneliness in the face of a society that ignores climate change that makes them suffer.
In the climate crisis, children and adolescents are a minority deprived of the power to determine their future and suffering choices that are harmful to them. Ecological inaction is therefore a form of abuse against young people. As a reminder, any form of social oppression causes real mental and physical suffering: eco-anxiety children suffer the mistreatment of a society that ignores their right to live. No need to look for the miracle drug for your ecoanxious teenager. It is by fighting climate change that we will help them regain hope and get better.
You are working on a new survey on eco-anxiety among young people in three countries. What are the first results?
Our investigation is based on a simple observation: not everyone is as militant as Greta Thunberg. So how do “ordinary” children and adolescents experience global warming? Do they dare to take action? We are currently interviewing 120 young people aged 6 to 18, from various backgrounds, and who live in France, the United States and Brazil, on their emotions and their climate actions. The first results show that children are delighted to “help” the climate with means within their reach.
The little ones (6-10 years old) are very empathetic towards animals, and feel a deep sadness in the face of the extinction of species. It is then up to adults to help children welcome these painful emotions, without trying to relativize, distract attention, or hide difficult truths. Accepting the loss is a healthy step in adjusting to the reality of the world, and children know better than anyone how to accept their sadness when they are not sought to distract from it.
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“Ecological inaction is a form of abuse against young people”