Climate change is not only a threat to the physical environment, but also to the mental health of millions of people around the world. In Fiji, a small island nation in the Pacific, many people are experiencing eco-anxiety, a term that describes the chronic fear and distress caused by environmental changes and disasters.
Fiji is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, coral bleaching, and food insecurity. According to the World Bank, Fiji has suffered losses equivalent to 6.5% of its GDP due to natural disasters in the past decade. These events have not only damaged the infrastructure, livelihoods, and ecosystems of the country, but also the well-being and resilience of its people.
A recent study by the University of Bath found that 70% of Fijians surveyed reported feeling anxious or depressed about climate change. The study also revealed that Fijians who had experienced more climate-related events, such as cyclones, floods, and droughts, had higher levels of eco-anxiety than those who had experienced fewer events. Moreover, Fijians who felt more connected to nature and their culture were more likely to experience eco-anxiety, as they perceived a greater loss of their identity and values.
The challenges of addressing eco-anxiety
Eco-anxiety is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that requires a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to understand and address. However, there are many challenges and barriers that hinder the effective management of eco-anxiety in Fiji and other countries.
One of the challenges is the lack of awareness and recognition of eco-anxiety as a legitimate and serious mental health issue. Many people may not realize that their feelings of worry, sadness, anger, or guilt about climate change are signs of eco-anxiety, and may not seek help or support. Moreover, some people may face stigma or discrimination for expressing their emotions or opinions about climate change, especially if they differ from the dominant or mainstream views.
Another challenge is the lack of resources and capacity to provide adequate and accessible mental health services for people suffering from eco-anxiety. Fiji has a shortage of trained and qualified mental health professionals, especially in rural and remote areas. According to the World Health Organization, Fiji has only 0.04 psychiatrists and 0.05 psychologists per 100,000 population. Furthermore, the existing mental health services may not be culturally appropriate or sensitive to the needs and preferences of different communities and groups.
The strategies of coping with eco-anxiety
Despite the challenges and difficulties, there are also many strategies and initiatives that can help people cope with eco-anxiety and enhance their mental health and well-being. Some of these strategies are individual, while others are collective or systemic.
At the individual level, some of the strategies that can help people deal with eco-anxiety include:
- Seeking information and education about climate change and its impacts, as well as the actions and solutions that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to it.
- Seeking professional help or counseling if eco-anxiety becomes overwhelming or interferes with daily functioning.
- Seeking social support and solidarity from family, friends, peers, or groups that share similar concerns and values about climate change.
- Engaging in self-care and wellness activities, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, hobbies, or spirituality, that can reduce stress and enhance positive emotions.
- Engaging in pro-environmental behaviors, such as reducing waste, saving energy, planting trees, or joining campaigns, that can increase a sense of agency and empowerment.
At the collective or systemic level, some of the strategies that can help address eco-anxiety include:
- Raising awareness and advocacy about climate change and its impacts, as well as the need for urgent and ambitious action from governments, businesses, and other stakeholders.
- Developing and implementing policies and programs that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience and adaptation, and support the most vulnerable and marginalized communities and groups.
- Developing and implementing policies and programs that can improve the availability and accessibility of mental health services, especially for those who are most affected by climate change and eco-anxiety.
- Developing and implementing policies and programs that can promote and protect the cultural and natural heritage, values, and identity of different communities and groups, especially those who are most connected to and dependent on the environment.
Climate change is a global and existential threat that poses significant challenges and risks to the physical and mental health of humanity. In Fiji, a country that is on the frontline of climate change, many people are experiencing eco-anxiety, a form of psychological distress that is caused by environmental changes and disasters. Eco-anxiety is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that requires a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to understand and address. There are many challenges and barriers that hinder the effective management of eco-anxiety, but there are also many strategies and initiatives that can help people cope with eco-anxiety and enhance their mental health and well-being. By acknowledging and addressing eco-anxiety, we can not only improve the quality of life of millions of people, but also increase the motivation and momentum for collective action and transformation to tackle climate change.