First Step To 'Eco-Grieving' Over Climate Change? Admit There's A Problem Psychologists say anxiety over climate change is making some people feel overwhelmed. To talk through their worries, a group in Utah is meeting weekly and the idea has drawn interest in other states.
NPR logo

First Step To 'Eco-Grieving' Over Climate Change? Admit There's A Problem

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524557600/525188134" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
First Step To 'Eco-Grieving' Over Climate Change? Admit There's A Problem

First Step To 'Eco-Grieving' Over Climate Change? Admit There's A Problem

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524557600/525188134" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A growing body of research shows climate change is bad, not just for the planet, but for our mental health. People who've lived through weather disasters are more prone to depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress.

Psychologists see more subtle effects, too. Just thinking about the impact of a shifting climate can make you feel anxious and overwhelmed. Judy Fahys of member station KUER reports on a support group in Utah that's helping people cope.

JUDY FAHYS, BYLINE: In a split level outside Salt Lake City, eight people gathered for a weekly meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Welcome.

FAHYS: This group of strangers started coming together last year. They range from millennials to grandparents.

DICK MEYER: The floor is open.

FAHYS: Dick Meyer used to be skeptical about climate change. As the group sits in a circle in the living room, he tells why the problem made him emotional.

MEYER: And I think I came to the conclusion that it was the loss of the future. The future that I had lived knowing was going to be there all of a sudden is gone, and that is really disorienting.

FAHYS: Meyer winters in Utah, but he tells me he's run a landscaping business in Nebraska for decades. That's where he seen a few common tree species dying out. Something scientists traced to heat and drought.

MEYER: At some point, you come to a conclusion if you're paying attention, I think, where you just say, whoa, this is serious. And then you suffer for awhile. You grieve.

KELLY: Laura Schmidt was also struggling when the idea for this group first came to her. She was an undergrad then studying species extinction and melting ice caps. The human impacts of all that made her feel heartsick and powerless. Then Schmidt remembered the 12 steps that self-help groups use for problems like drugs and overdrinking.

LAURA SCHMIDT: I have been an avid participant in an al-anon group - adult children of alcoholics - and I realized that that group can be co-opted.

FAHYS: Schmidt wrote her own steps - nine of them. The first is the standard admit there's a problem.

SCHMIDT: It's a lot about understanding your power and what you're capable of but also your limitations as a single human being on this planet.

LISE VAN SUSTEREN: Yes people are anxious. We have climate anxiety all over the place.

FAHYS: Lise Van Susteren is a Washington D.C. psychiatrist and climate activist.

SUSTERAN: Every single day we are told about what disasters are just around the corner, and this is being processed whether we know it consciously or not.

FAHYS: Van Susteren calls the Utah group's approach brilliant since it helps people cope with their feelings and makes their community ties stronger. The American Psychological Association suggests both strategies in its new report on climate and mental health.

ALI HARBERTSON: Does this help to talk about it with people? It totally has.

FAHYS: In Utah, Ali Harbertson says she comes to these meetings to mourn the past and re-imagine her kids' future. We don't do chit chat. We go right to like what's on your heart, and I cry like every week, which is no big - no big thing for me. I'm a huge crier. But still, like, feeling like I can do that with almost complete strangers is amazing.

FAHYS: People in other states who've heard about this program are asking if they can use it, too. So the Utah group is planning to share it. For NPR News, I'm Judy Fayhs in Salt Lake City.

(THE SIX PARTS SEVEN SONG, "THIS ONE OR THAT ONE?")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.