Italy is currently experiencing extreme weather conditions such as heat waves, wildfires, and heavy rain. These events have triggered a sense of anxiety and fear about the future of the planet. A young Italian woman expressed her concerns to the country’s environment minister, highlighting her personal suffering from eco-anxiety. This emotional interaction led to the minister himself shedding tears, emphasizing his responsibility towards future generations.
Similar sentiments can be observed in other European countries. In Greece, people are dealing with devastating fires followed by floods. Italians are worried about the prolonged heat waves and the potential return of destructive hailstorms. In Portugal, a group of young individuals exhausted by the heat and fires have taken legal action against European nations, attributing their mental health issues to climate change. These experiences and events contribute to a growing sense of eco-anxiety across the continent.
While eco-anxiety is not officially recognized as a mental disorder, experts agree that the constant exposure to images of environmental devastation can lead to widespread feelings of despair. Dr. Paolo Cianconi, a member of the World Psychiatry Association, predicts that eco-anxiety will continue to rise in the future. A recent study mentioned terms like “eco-PTSD,” “eco-burnout,” “eco-phobia,” and “eco-rage,” but the focus remained on eco-anxiety, which encompasses feelings of frustration, powerlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness.
Teenagers, like Sara Maggiolo from Rome, feel overwhelmed by climate anxiety in addition to academic pressures. They worry about the future, expressing concern over the continuous deterioration of the environment and the increasing severity of summer temperatures. Psychiatrists note that people who have already been dealing with multiple crises, such as the financial crisis, the migrant crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and energy crises, are more susceptible to mental health problems caused by climate change-related issues.
The Greek population, in particular, has faced a series of crises that have now culminated in the climate crisis. Constant stress has a greater impact on mental health than short-lived stress, according to Greek psychiatrist Christos Liapis. The Greek Health Ministry plans to implement a comprehensive program to provide psychosocial support to flood victims and allocate mobile units with mental health professionals to affected areas.
A survey conducted in Italy revealed that 72 percent of Italians have a pessimistic view of the future and believe that the environmental situation will worsen in the coming years. Frustrated by government inaction, some individuals seek solace in faith. Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to take action to protect the planet and combat climate change during World Youth Day in Lisbon.
While some experts argue that a touch of eco-anxiety can motivate people to take positive action, it is important to recognize that prolonged anxiety can be detrimental to mental health. Psychiatrist Giampaolo Perna believes that it could lead to a crisis in individuals already suffering from anxiety disorders. Leonardo Giordano, an employee at a health food restaurant in Rome, describes his feelings as more despair than anxiety. He feels that there is little hope for the future and that his family’s optimism is misplaced.
Overall, Europe is grappling with eco-anxiety, a term used to describe the all-encompassing concerns about the environment. Climate change is progressing faster than mental health diagnoses and is contributing to a growing sense of gloom and doom. As individuals grapple with feelings of anxiety and despair, it remains to be seen how this collective state of mind will shape future actions and attitudes towards environmental issues.
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