Mental Health & Our Changing Climate

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 9.48.56 AMIn June 2014, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica published an important report, Beyond Storms & Drought: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, which outlined the numerous direct and indirect pathways through which climate change and the resulting environmental alterations impact mental health.

Yesterday, an updated report, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, was released and I am pleased to be an Editor and a Contributor on this report. The shared goal is to continue to increase awareness and understanding of the psychological impacts of climate change, and to continue dialogue on this important topic.


From the Introduction to the Report:

It is time to expand information and action on climate and health, including mental health. The health, economic, political, and environmental implications of climate change affect all of us. The tolls on our mental health are far reaching. They induce stress, depression, and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence, and crime. Children and communities with few resources to deal with the impacts of climate change are those most impacted. To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing. These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.

This report also highlights work done in partnership with Inuit from throughout Nunatsiavut.

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The Mental Health Impacts of Ecological Grief in a Changing Climate

The ecologist (in a more than scientific sense) is someone who is touched by this loss in such a way as to mourn the toll of extinction instituted by human exemptionism and exceptionalism. She is bereft, and yet also understands that this feeling, her being touched by irrevocable loss, is itself a matter of realizing the existence of a sense of an ecological and ethical and political community with other species.
Mick Smith, 2013, p. 29

In 2016, I participated in the Advanced Study Institute, hosted by the Transcultural Psychiatry group at McGill University, led by Dr. Lawrence Kirmayer. The 2016 theme was Psychiatry for a Small Planet, and brought together an international group of researchers working on various aspects of mental health, nature, and the environment.

I was invited to speak on the ways in which ecological grief manifests within a changing climate in the North based on the Nunatsiavut-led research on climate change and mental health, and what it teaches us about our relationships with the more-than-human worlds.

3 Part Video Series on Eskasoni

I always feel very grateful to be able to do the work that I do, and learn from the people with whom I work. And working with Cassidy Jean McAuliffe was no different!

This summer, Cassidy spent a month in Unama’ki/Cape Breton working with the community of Eskasoni First Nations, Sharon Rudderham, Daphne Hutt-MacLeod, and the amazing staff at the Eskasoni Health Centre, and myself, to produce a three-part video series telling the Eskasoni Story.

Cassidy has produced a series of three very powerful vignettes, looking at past, present, and future, and celebrates the power, resilience, healing, and strength of Eskasoni First Nations.


Grief & Climate Change Podcast

Back in September, I had the great pleasure of participating in a phone-in conference as part of an initiative, The World in Which We OccurOur discussion focused on Grief and Climate Change, and I was honoured to share the event with two other amazing individuals, Clive Hamilton and Lori Gruen. The podcast of our discussions is now available.

Grief and Climate Change:

An investigation into the methodologies of approach to ‘climate deniers’ and their reasoning, as well as the flipside of grief: how to psychologically adapt to the repercussions of natural disasters today? This session identifies the psychological response in an era of global warming on both the climate denier side of the equation, as well as victims who have weathered a natural catastrophe and the effects thereafter. What is the mournable body beyond the human? Are non-human entities fellow vulnerable beings capable of our mourning? What kind of concerted political action exists for these beings?

Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra and the author of ‘Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change’.

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox is a Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities and an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Nursing and Indigenous Studies at Cape Breton University in Unama’ki/Cape Breton, focusing on climate change and mental health, Indigenous health and cultural resurgence, and environmental mourning.

Lori Gruen is the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut where she is also Professor of Environmental Studies. She is the co-editor of ‘Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with other Animals and the Earth’.

Featured in The Tyee: What Climate Change Does to Our Minds

Earlier this week, The Tyee featured the work up North I’ve been doing in partnership with the Inuit Communities of Northern Labrador on climate change and mental health. Many thanks to Geoff Dembiki and The Tyee for highlighting this research and sharing it with their readership.

“To be a part of a culture and a people that has a necessary connection to nature and the outdoors and is used to living in a certain way — to see that slipping away is scary.” Melva Williams, Rigolet, 2012

Click here to read the article.


New Article Published: Climate Change as the Work of Mourning

Happy to share the recent publication of my article, Climate Change as the Work of Mourning, which was published as a special issue on Climate Change and Ethics through the wonderful journal, Ethics and the Environment. Here’s a description of the article by Raymond Anthony, editor of the issue.

“Cunsolo Willox opens new vistas of inquiry for philosophers and social scientists in her insightful and compassionate examination of grief and mourning that occurs with the destruction and demise of non-human bodies and spaces. Carefully weaving important narratives regarding the Inuit in the Canadian North with a masterful reinvigoration of both Bulter and Derrida to meet this aspect of the challenge of climate change, Cunsolo Willox examines the political and ethical implications of framing climate change discourses as mourning. Not only must we reconsider the pervasive moral and political mentality that has brought us to the current precipice, Cunsolo Willox concludes that “[t]he work of mourning brings back these [non-human] bodies to the foreground as something worthy to be mourned through productive, transformative, interminable, and never-ending work…work that may allow for a deeper understanding of our relationships with other bodies, human and non-human—a new ecological ethic and platform for unification and action premised upon and mobilized through the work and labors of mourning.” Cunsolo Willox gives voice to an ancient way of knowing and being that is essential to our flourishing, if not survival.”

To read the article: Climate Change as Work of Mourning_Cunsolo Willox 2012

Bolivia Set to Pass Historic ‘Law of Mother Earth’ Which Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans

Bolivia Set to Pass Historic ‘Law of Mother Earth’ Which Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans.

An interesting and historic new legislation set to pass in Bolivia that

redifines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right ‘to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecoystems and the local inhabitant communities’.