Mental Health and Climate Activism

(Before releasing this article I released a survey a few weeks back and I am extremely grateful for all of those who filled it out. It was anonymous and asked people about their personal experiences with mental health and their climate activism. I will be using results of the 11 responses on this form throughout this article.)

Firstly, when talking about climate activism and mental health, we have to understand what climate activism is and how people perceive it. When asked, in the form, about what climate activism is to those filling out the form, to get a better understanding of the perspective of how people see climate activism, there was a vary of answers. Climate action is: "climate justice", "fighting for change for positive impacts on the environment", "my way of feeling empowered in an age of eco-anxiety", "caring about people, the planet and nature enough to act and do what you can to create change towards a better world", "Pressuring and bringing politicians to account on their constant inaction on the climate crisis to promote change whilst conserving and protecting our environment and vulnerable ecosystems", "speaking up about climate issues and trying to be sustainable/taking action", "Working to ensure the climate is not in danger", "Actively working towards a more sustainable world through individual actions and advocacy", "Working towards spreading awareness and protesting against policies that are destructive to the environment while also fighting for eco-justice", "just trying to do the right thing".

How are Mental Health and Climate Activism connected? Personally, I believe that many mental health challenges faced in everyday life are amplified in the climate activism world. In activism there are many challenges that can impact negatively on people's mental health daily, from the nervousness of dealing with new situations, the stress of trying to get projects done, fear of the climate crisis etc. There can be positive impacts also: the relief of taking action, the fun of meeting new people, the enjoyment of learning new things etc. In the forms when asked if activism had an overall positive or negative impact on your mental health, five replied positive, three replied negative and two said "It depends on the work I do, but usually more negative", "It depends, I think activists are very exposed to a lot of hate and abuse but there is a buzz you get from activism that is different from anything else" and one said both positive and negative.

Unfortunately, the lack of mental health priority and awareness in everyday life is reflected in that of climate activism also. Since mental health challenges can be sneaky and invisible it is very hard to prioritise it but that does not mean it can’t be done.  In the forms, 6 people believed mental health is not prioritised with one believing it was and other saying  "not as much as it should be", "sometimes, in certain groups breaks to avoid burnout are encouraged but on a personal level mental health isn’t prioritised", "It is rarely talked about in activism but some activists speak out about it", "Increasingly so, but I would still say no".

Many activists don’t prioritise their mental health for many reasons, one being because climate change seems to be a much bigger issue than their mental health challenges. This is the big issue! If mental health isn’t prioritised in activism then problems start to occur. As the saying goes; you can’t pour from an empty cup. If activists, and people in general don’t nurture their own health but want to continue doing all of the things they are doing, they won’t be able to. 

This is clearly seen in climate activism when activists become burnt out, exhausted, upset and physically, mentally and emotionally unable to continue with their activism because their own mental state has deteriorated from the challenges of activism and the climate crisis. And especially lately, from my own experience and from talking to other activists, there has been a major strain on everyone's mental health. Of course, this is understandable as we have been living through a time of a pandemic, the climate crisis, war and other devastating events; 11 people said climate change has an overall negative impact on their mental health.

So, how do you prioritise mental health in activism? First you have to recognise the main mental health challenges that are experienced, the symptoms and the solutions. It is important to state that mental health in general, not to mind with climate activism, is an incredibly fragile and important thing and must be cared for. With mental health, education is power! On the other hand, there needs to be external supports for people to prioritise their mental health with their activism. As a result in the survey, 4 people believed there were no supports for taking care of your mental health in the activist world with one saying there were, 3 were unsure and others mentioned that "it was never talked about", "I don't know of any", "it depends on the organisation, some do". There needs to be more supports out there to make sure activists know it is okay and necessary for mental health to be prioritised.

I will be releasing a post every day this week. Each post will focus on different mental health challenges and experiences; these include eco-anxiety, imposter syndrome, stress, burnout and the causes, symptoms and solutions of these; as well as looking at resilience, confidence, boundaries and the positives of activism.

Here is a quick synopsis of them:

Eco-anxiety – talking about the huge anxiety people experience in relation to climate change.

Imposter Syndrome – talking about how many people can feel like they are not worthy of being where they are and waiting for someone to call them out on being an imposter.

Stress and burnout – talking about stress in activism and how chronic stress can lead to burnout which is your body’s cry for help.

Resilience – talking about how to cope with all of these challenges and some solutions to deal with it.

Boundaries and Confidence – talking about the importance of boundaries and how to learn how to be confident.

The positives of Activism - talking about the good experiences that can arise from getting involved with climate activism.

Of course, make sure to look into these further yourself to be able to educate yourself on this. Many activists may or may not experience these and learning as much as you can about these mental health challenges can be empowering.