A recent article in the Washington Post Magazine
examined the mental health disaster that took place among survivors in the aftermath of the devastating Camp Fire in 2018. One survivor described her trauma as, by turns, a “beast” that “could come out at any moment,” and sometimes, leaves her “so numb, she can talk about painful memories like she’s ordering a sandwich.” Though PTSD did not touch all survivors, a study conducted by scientists at UC San Diego “found that an overwhelming number of Camp Fire survivors were suffering from various mental health disorders, most prominently PTSD.” The participating researchers likened the findings to what they would have expected to see among war veterans.
Mental health professionals, on the whole, are not prepared to take on this influx of patients dealing with the after-effects of a climate disaster, but change is happening; an American psychiatrist, Lisa Van Susteren visited London in 2014 to learn firsthand how her British colleagues were dealing with the twin issues of mental health and climate trauma. What she learned helped launch two groups stateside: the Climate Psychiatry Alliance
, and the Climate Psychology Alliance
. As of 2021, there’s even a climate-aware therapist directory
. (Though, of the 150,000 active psychologists and psychiatrists in the U.S., this directory only lists 97.) I recently joined the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America
and am looking forward to exploring key questions surrounding this field and learning new techniques for addressing climate-induced traumas. Participating mental health practitioners adhere to a code that acknowledges the climate crisis as one of many “new forms of distress” and that “professional training of the allied mental health therapy and counseling community can attend to this distress.” It is an exciting step towards offering much-needed services
in relation to the climate crisis.
Eco-anxiety and how to address it is also a topic I explore at length in my forthcoming book, Resurgence of Global Populism: A Psychoanalytic Study of Blame-Shifting and the Corruption of Democracy (Routledge, 2022)–and one that was discussed at a recent two-day conference co-hosted by the Contemporary Freudian Society, Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis, and Washington School of Psychiatry. Read below for that event’s recap.