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May 6 2020

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Rebecca Rehr

The last few months have posed a unique challenge for all of us: stay away from each other in order to stay healthy. Physical distancing is the best method we have to combat the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. For many of us, when we’re feeling sick, the most comforting thing can be a loved one holding your hand or rubbing your back. A warm embrace from grandparents, neighbors, and friends can turn a tough time into something manageable. This makes what the doctor ordered a little harder to swallow. Everyday activities have been blanketed by a layer of anxiety, especially for those who were already struggling to get by. But we persevere and keep our distance for those of us who can because we know it’s necessary to protect everyone, especially frontline workers and those most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. 

May is #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. It is important to take time to care for ourselves and those around us; participate in activities that can bring us peace and serenity when everything around us is so turbulent. For those of us working at the intersection of climate change and health, this includes addressing ecoanxiety: watching climate impacts unfold, hearing the doom and gloom of the impacts, worrying about the future for younger family members, and a feeling of helplessness to do anything about it. A few different people have said the COVID-19 pandemic is like climate change, but at warp speed. In addition to some of the mental health impacts of climate change like grief, PTSD, and domestic violence, ecoanxiety is an emerging topic of focus in mental health research and intervention. 

Climate for Health and ecoAmerica published a comprehensive report, Mental Health And Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, And Guidance with the American Psychological Association. You can learn more about the ways climate change is impacting our mental health and recommendations for different sectors of society.

We can continue to support each other in climate action and help people understand they are not alone in their climate concerns. Youth leading global climate movements have emphasized the anger they feel in the face of intergenerational injustice, and feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead of them. The momentum they were building before the pandemic continues to pick up speed through online demonstrations and three full days of online programming for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Let’s keep it up! 

In our most recent publication, Moving Forward: A Guide for Health Professionals to Build Momentum on Climate Action, we walk through ways to engage your peers, the public, and policymakers in equitable climate solutions. We also build on the recommendations from our earlier report to spotlight mental health as a key tenet of climate resiliency in communities. As we look for outlets to channel pent up energy and connection to others, we can join online campaigns and call our elected officials to ask them to support climate solutions that improve health and equity. 

Stay safe, stay well, and stay active.

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