There’s a new determinant affecting the health of everyday Australians and we’ve only experienced the tip of it. This time its not a social determinant but an environmental determinant.

It’s called eco-anxiety and it’s been gaining currency not only in the media but among health experts and practitioners.

While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not include eco-anxiety as a specific diagnosis, psychologists are seeing patients present with high levels of climate stress. Reported symptoms include panic attacks, obsessive thinking, loss of appetite, and insomnia.

In September 2019, the AMA joined other international health organisations including the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and Doctors for the Environment Australia – in declaring climate change as a health emergency.

Apart from its physical impacts on health the AMA highlighted “a higher incidence of mental ill-health” as a key consequence of Climate Change.

The American Psychological Association have said they are aware of reports of growing “eco-anxiety” in children, but research was needed to establish how common it is. Health Issues Centre has begun social research to identify the extent and impact of this emerging public health problem.

Research conducted by Health Issues Centre indicates that the recent (and current) catastrophic bushfires in Australia have led to a steep spike in eco-anxiety, particularly among millennials who have lived their entire lives in the shadows of climate change.

Among respondents to a survey targeting teens and young adults, 36% listed “mental health” as the key impact they suffered from following coverage of the unfolding fires.

The research also identified a high level of frustration and resentment against older generations who are seen to be sleep-walking through the climate crisis. Only 16% of participants viewed their future optimistically whereas 28% described the future in apocalyptic terms and a further 23% were simply pessimistic.

This year Health Issues Centre will actively and specifically turn our attention to the physical, mental and health service impacts of extreme weather events and the challenges we will all be confronted by. In our next edition we will publish the findings of our report on eco-anxiety as one of the key health issues of the next decade.

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