Students experience climate anxiety, call for change

By Eden Drajpuch, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 23, Students for Environmental Concerns, or SECS, facilitated a climate walkout at the Alma Mater statue. The march aimed to call for accountability from the University regarding fossil fuel divestment and a greener community. While it successfully unified students in the pursuit of change, for some, it caused worsened feelings that have become the reality for many: climate anxiety.

The American Psychology Association defines climate anxiety as “anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects.” College students struggle with climate anxiety in many ways, from concerns about the environment for future generations to the political divide regarding environmental policies.

Khushi Thakur, sophomore in DGS, explained how she sees climate anxiety.

“I think climate anxiety refers to the uneasiness people feel when they think about the state of our climate today and what the future will be like,” Thakur said.

Some mental health professionals are beginning to offer treatment and therapy for people struggling with climate anxiety, including Kate Maurer, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Bodhi Counseling and Consulting in Champaign.

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“(Climate anxiety) has kind of been an interest of mine for a while and something that I’ve been aware of,” Maurer said.

While Maurer described climate anxiety as an accompanying factor in pre-existing struggles, she acknowledged it can significantly impact people’s mental health.

“There’s not a lot of therapists specializing in this, but I think there’s an increasing acknowledgment that this is a factor in mental health for a lot of people these days,” Maurer said.

Maurer works with the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America, a national workshop designed to offer mental health professionals tools to treat climate anxiety. She recalls gaining helpful experiences at the workshop and learning methods she continues to use in her therapy sessions.

“I’ve done some training through the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America, and someday, I’m hoping to facilitate a Climate Cafe, which is sort of an experiential support group,” Maurer said.

Thakur said she has attempted to learn more about the climate crisis to address her anxiety through education.

“I don’t really recall learning about climate change in depth at school; I was introduced to the idea in elementary school, and it was expanded upon in middle and high school, but I don’t think it was covered in enough detail,” Thakur said. “I mostly learned about it through the books I read.”

Gillen D’Arcy Wood, professor in LAS, leads students in learning about climate change. Wood said he considers himself a cultural historian who can contextualize the history of the climate crisis in a way that students may not be able to do themselves.

“There’s been a long generational buildup, so I think a historical perspective is something I bring,” Wood said. “I’m hoping to open up people’s historical consciousness (to see that) this is a crisis that has long-term antecedence.”

Despite the present threat of climate change and worsening climate anxiety, many with hope for the future have become active participants in ensuring a safer tomorrow for all.

“I think the way to combat climate anxiety is to attack the root of the problem — climate change itself,” Thakur said. “It’s important to have positive coping mechanisms. I don’t think climate anxiety is going to go away unless we give people a reason to believe we’re going to be okay.”