After Britt Wray married in 2017, she and her husband began discussing whether or not they were going to have children. The conversation quickly turned to climate change and to the planet those children might inherit.
“It was very, very heavy,” said Dr. Wray, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “I wasn’t expecting it.” She said she became sad and stressed, crying when she read new climate reports or heard activists speak.
Jennifer Atkinson, an associate professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, Bothell, became depressed after students told her they couldn’t sleep because they feared social collapse or mass extinction.
There are different terms for what the two women experienced, including eco-anxiety and climate grief, and Dr. Wray calls it eco-distress. “It’s not just anxiety that shows up when we’re waking up to the climate crisis,” she said. “It’s dread, it’s grief, it’s fear.”
It’s also not unusual. Over the past five years, according to researchers at Yale University and George Mason University, the number of Americans who are “very worried” about climate change has more than doubled, to 26 percent. In 2020, an American Psychiatric Association poll found that more than half of Americans are concerned about climate change’s effect on their mental health.