What we’re getting wrong about mental health and climate change
Everyone is talking about mental health today. It permeates workplace culture; sports stars open up about it. 20 years ago, it wasn’t even part of the mainstream lexicon. It occupied a dark corner of the public mind. You were a sissy if you opened your mouth about it. You were to suffer alone; a therapist was the bogeyman you talked to in hiding if you had the courage to speak up.
In 2021, taboo issues like menstrual health or race & representation can be openly discussed. I think it’s brilliant, a time where we can take the conservative attitudes of yesteryear and flush it down the toilet. But there is an issue with opening up about all sorts of things and not tending to the most important discussion we should be owning.
Even before the pandemic took hold, mental health took up a lot of attention. We felt more comfortable discussing it; a public attitude shift had forced us to reckon with this health crisis. Then Covid-19 came along and clearly shifted something inside us. Mental health not only became important but essential to our daily survival. Even as a magazine editor to date, I receive so many press releases and studies with the terms burn out, anxiety and depression.
“If we spend hundreds of years neglecting our environment, building habitats wherever we please, forcing billions of animals into submission, choking our airways, what does that say about our motivation and intentions as a species?”
This pandemic has pushed us to our limits, our freedoms denied, and our jobs taken away, with screaming kids at home. A lockdown has truly become a downer. Even though we feel like we are ever slowly inching towards a post-pandemic life, now all we hear about is another emerging crisis, our climate.
Now that the smoke has cleared, we are all forced to acknowledge the severity of this problem. In fact, the pandemic clearly revealed that we are directly to blame for this climate crisis, so much so, carbon emissions dropped 10% in 2020 due to our immobility.
But the growing parallels between the mental health crisis and the climate crisis have become increasingly clear. We are all talking about what we need to do for nature and the climate; vegan that and Tesla this. But for me, the climate crisis is clearly a reflection of our internal habitat’s declining state. If we spend hundreds of years neglecting our environment, building habitats wherever we please, forcing billions of animals into submission, choking our airways, what does that say about our motivation and intentions as a species?
Some great studies demonstrate what happens when we abandon our duties as keepers of the garden. Our health suffers. That includes higher infertility, increased cancer, cardiovascular disease and a higher prevalence of mental health disorders.
To help solve this climate crisis, we must first tend to our selves. We are still talking about the science, getting economies down to net-zero targets, achieving a 2-degree reduction by 2050. Incredibly, we don’t hear a discussion around what achieving those environmental goals would look like if empathy and kindness were integrated into our systems. It’s still taboo to mix those two distinct areas, one dedicated to rational, empirical thought and the other a more elusive and emotional framework. Have you ever heard an economist or scientist say we need more presence and love in our systems, not carbon-sequestering devices?
The wisdom of the enlightenment figures Newton and Darwin became so revered; they taught us to put down our feelings and look through the telescope. The romantics came along thereafter and said the opposite, put down your tools and pick up your feelings. It is clear that tension still exists. We need to use both faculties to solve this crisis. We don’t need scientists to tell us how bad it is right now; you only need to listen to your internal compass. Obviously, we need scientists to help provide us with solutions, but the rest has to come from a behaviour change.
“Have you ever heard an economist or scientist say we need more presence and love in our systems, not carbon-sequestering devices?”
A study in 2017 showed that 1 in 10 people globally experienced, at some point, a mental health disorder. Acknowledging we have a mental health crisis is just one small step in the right direction of admitting we have a much larger problem, that our biggest issue in society is spiritual poverty. It’s not about what’s out there but what’s inside you. There I said it.
As much as I love the field of science, it can get in the way of this vital and urgent issue. It has brought us a ton of outstanding advances and achievements. Hell, we have featured some of the greatest scientists of our time in these very pages. But as the brilliant thinker and author Michael Pollan paraphrased in our interview, “Science can bring you to the Big Bang, but it can’t take you beyond it. You need a different kind of apparatus to peer into that.”
Written by Ari Stein, Founding editor of 52 Insights