A blog by young volunteer Charlie Black
From the 10th-16th May, the Mental Health Foundation have organised their annual event to stimulate conversations around mental health, reducing the stigma and raising awareness. During the pandemic, we have had time to reflect as well as alleviate stress through interacting with nature.
To be in nature does not necessarily mean to walk in the woods. Even to sit with your dog, or to talk to another person is to engage with your environment. It’s easy to forget, stuck in our houses, distracted by our phones, that we come from the Earth just like a plant or an animal. Yes, pets are domesticated but that is from integrating them with human routines. Naturally; cats, dogs, and humans were out in the wild.
I would even argue that one way to improve our mental health is to improve the environment we are in. That mental health is poor, partly, because the environment is poorly looked after. Both nature and mental health are not tangible, they are unable to be physically held, and, maybe from not being able to physically see them, they have been neglected.
Growing up, I didn’t think too much of the environment. I cared for animals, but I saw the climate as something I learnt of in school, an external object; not any of my business. I grew up ignoring that I, as a human being, was part of nature.
Similarly, families, over the past year, have found a sense of calmness by accessing nature, whether that was going to a nearby park or beginning to partake in gardening. Crucially, if we regard nature as an external entity, something to utilise for pleasure, we ignore the active relationship we have with the environment; that we can tend to nature in a way it tends for us. We can grow, maintain and protect natural beings as they keep us serenity, creative ideas, and ground us in the moment.
As a child I was fearful. Of floods, of fires… It is as if I knew of the environmental degradation going on around me, but I didn’t know how to articulate it. As I became older my fear developed into what is regarded as eco-anxiety. Force of Nature defines eco-anxiety as ‘Persistent and intrusive worries about the future of the Earth’.
I was frightened of change, of its severity, of what could happen, of what was about to happen as it seemed that no one was doing anything about it! With fear, I sought out structure, a right way of doing things, leading to me being confrontational and rigid. I dismissed my privilege, that I was in a comfortable situation to switch to zero-waste, become vegan etc… ignoring that this was not a possibility for most people.
What is significant to acknowledge is that eco-anxiety does not have to arise from the direct effects of global warming. I began to see climate change as the biggest threat we have faced, but for others, climate change contributes to an ‘intersectionality of issues’ where extreme weather events worsen the ability to access food, to leave the house, to get to work, or even work itself if one’s job is outdoor manual labour. I would still argue that tackling climate change is a priority for everyone, but exacerbating it as ‘the greatest crisis humanity has experienced’ dismisses the hardships that marginalised communities live through in their everyday lives.
Climate change is often perceived as a future event, as something that will happen eventually if we don’t change, but climate change is already happening and it is affecting the poorest and the most vulnerable. We here in Britain will not fully realise what these people are experiencing until we go through it ourselves, and by then, honestly, irreversible change would have occurred.
Climate change is a symptom of a broader, oppressive social system that is affecting the mental and physical health of all living beings. My anger and fear have shifted from individuals to injustices because climate justice is closely embedded within social inequalities. There is a certain line of thinking where certain groups are seen as superior to others, but this superiority is often justified by superficial reasons. What links mental health to the climate crisis is a lack of unity, of solidarity, of representation.
It is like the world is having a panic attack, as if there is so much going on, it can’t keep up and it’s just trying to gain some control by warming up. Those in power claim to care about the environment, to slow down global warming, to prepare a space for young people to grow, but they don’t change their ways. They continue to build oil and gas plants, although they take many years to make a profit. They are making long-term decisions that will have consequences on those who did not have a say. Just because our physical life expectancy has increased does not mean our quality of life has improved.
Why not take some time out this week to #connecttonature, to look around with a new perception and gratitude for living beings? Check-in with those close to you and, now that social distance measures are relaxing, maybe take a stroll in nature together. Carving out time to spend with loved ones, to express how you truly feel, is beneficial for everyone, as telling your story creates connections between others; strengthening relationships in a time where we have been isolated for much longer than a year.
Independent charity that aims to make a difference in the lives of 11-25-year-olds. Provide advice and support on financial, social and mental health issues.
Mental Health Foundation
UK’s leading charity for mental health that aims to prevent, maintain and improve public mental health. Created campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Newsletter written by PhD Britt Wray as she explores emotional intelligence and the climate crisis.
UK Social Enterprise aims to change the lives of those tackling depression. Have a weekly newsletter, resources and a lil’ online shop of self-care goodies.