All of us will be affected by concerns about the state of the world; what counts is how we respond to those concerns, according to academics.


Eco-distress, or existential concerns about the state of the world in light of an increase in catastrophic weather events and ecological destruction, is becoming more and more common.n

However, according to the authors of a recent research in “Nature Mental Health,” increasing levels of eco-distress may actually tilt the scale in favor of pro-environmental initiatives that might help temper the extremes of climate change.nn

In the article, “Eco-distress is not a pathology, but it still hurts,” researchers and clinicians Dr. Liz Marks and Caroline Hickman from the University of Bath explore what effects individual concern about the planet is having, focusing on how eco-distress might help prompt positive actions. They describe eco-distress as encapsulating the complex emotional, cognitive and physical impacts on individuals and families brought about by the climate crisis.n

Seminal research from Marks and Hickman, released by survey results highlighted how nearly 60% of young people (aged 16-25) were “very” or “extremely worried” about the direction of the planet. It suggested that young people’s fears were linked to government inaction in not responding to climate change.n

More older adults. Its 2022 survey of 13,000 adults in the UK suggested over 43% were “extremely” or “very worried” about climate change.n

Commenting on the Nature Mental Health article, clinical psychologist Dr. Liz Marks said, “Our research is consistently showing that eco-distress, or anxiety?deep rooted fears about the future of the planet?is affecting more and more people in the UK and around the world. Eco-distress involves many feelings, including grief, anger, sadness, hopelessness, despair, guilt; but also hope, inspiration, care and compassion.n

“Crucially, eco-distress should not be viewed as ‘weakness,’ oversensitivity, or as it is sometimes polemicized, as ‘wokeness.’ It is a valid response demanding respect, care and understanding from all of us. Even if we are not aware of our own distress, this may change as the impacts of the climate and ecological emergency increasingly affect all of our lives.”n

Co-author Caroline Hickman, a specialist psychotherapist who has supported individuals with eco-climate change, and the spectrum of responses ranges from mild unease to terror. Ultimately, fears about the future of the planet will impact all of us?it’s how we act on them that’s important.n

“We need to channel these very rational fears people are experiencing into collective actions that demand changes from people in power, to challenge global injustice, and to help mitigate the global challenges we are facing.”

More information:
Elizabeth Marks et al, Eco-distress is not a pathology, but it still hurts, Nature Mental Health (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44220-023-00075-3

Provided byn University of Bath n