The Link Between Sustainability and Mental Health

By: Cheryll Jones

Climate change has already showed catastrophic consequences in the form of natural disasters and deteriorating ecosystems around the world. The economic impact is obvious, and so are the physical changes characterized by melting ice caps and withered forests. But aside from that, another conversation we should be having is climate change's impact on mental health.

In both Canada and the US approximately 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. Although we've made some strides in ending the stigma, the number of people suffering from mental illness continue to rise — especially for Millennials.

"Eco-anxiety" in the age of climate change

photo: Nico Roicke

photo: Nico Roicke

One look at the news and you're likely to be bombarded with headlines about plastic waste destroying oceans and global warming warnings. While Baby Boomers and Generation X were fortunate enough to live through a time before climate change took over newsfeeds, distressing news on climate change has become a reality for millennials. As a response, it leaves many of them feeling powerless and anxious over the uncertain future of the world.

Ultimately, a healthy environment is the foundation that paves the way for humans to enjoy life. And many ask: what’s the use of bringing children into a dying world?

In 2017, the American Psychological Association even issued a report on the impact of climate change on mental health. Though the report mainly delved into trauma due to extreme weather, it concluded that “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” All this has since birthed the term "eco-anxiety," which is defined as a chronic concern over environmental issues.

Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon is highest among Millennials, who grew up with a strong awareness of the connection between human rights and the environment. In fact, more than a third of millennials now consider climate change a moral factor for whether or not they should have kids, given the unpredictability of what's to come. Ultimately, a healthy environment is the foundation that paves the way for humans to enjoy life. And many ask: what's the use of bringing children into a dying world?

photo: Veeterzy

photo: Veeterzy

The solution for change

Despite the depressive state of the planet, it's crucial not to lose hope. Sadly, we need much more than steel straw movements and tote bags to turn the tide. If we want to create significant change on a large scale, companies and corporations need to shift to sustainable practices. Fast Company point to a report that details how 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. These are mainly oil and coal companies.

If you are trying to be more sustainable you should also be wary of companies who greenwash. Greenwashing is when companies deliberately promote false eco-friendly claims to promote sales. Business Insider explains how the concept started in the 80s when people got their news from TV, radio and print. Today, the internet has dramatically expanded the number of ways adverts can reach an audience. Communication specialists at Maryville University report how in 2017 digital ad spending surpassed TV for the first time and is expected to be worth $335 billion by next year. This has provided a large scope for companies to promote greenwashed products, particularly on social media channels. With so much misinformation out there, it is no wonder many people feel stressed and anxious about whether the product they are purchasing is sustainable. The best way to avoid this is to thoroughly research the product you are buying to give you peace of mind.

A sustainable future

Like we said, it's going to take much more than individual efforts. Collectively, we all need to push the narrative of climate change forward. Now more than ever, we must rally for sustainability. It's the only thing that can ensure a future for the coming generations — and consequently, lessen the burden of despair and fear for a dark tomorrow.