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.

Mourning Nature Release Date

mourning-natureIn May 2017, an edited collection that myself and Dr. Karen Landman from the University of Guelph have been working on for several years will be available through McGill-Queen’s University Press. This book was an absolute privilege and honour to work on, and the chapters within tell powerful, moving, and important stories about the ways in which we mourn nature, what this mourning can tell us about ourselves, and how this mourning can be mobilized for political and ethical change. Order here.

We are facing unprecedented environmental challenges, including global climate change, large-scale industrial development, rapidly increasing species extinction, ocean acidification, and deforestation – challenges that require new vocabularies and new ways to express grief and sorrow over the disappearance, degradation, and loss of nature.

Seeking to redress the silence around ecologically based anxiety in academic and public domains, and to extend the concepts of sadness, anger, and loss, Mourning Nature creates a lexicon for the recognition and expression of emotions related to environmental degradation. Exploring the ways in which grief is experienced in numerous contexts, this groundbreaking collection draws on classical, philosophical, artistic, and poetic elements to explain environmental melancholia. Understanding that it is not just how we mourn, but what we mourn that defines us, the authors introduce new perspectives on conservation, sustainability, and our relationships with nature.

An ecological elegy for a time of climatic and environmental upheaval, Mourning Nature challenges readers to turn devastating events into an opportunity for positive change.

Contributors include Glenn Albrecht (Murdoch University, retired); Jessica Marion Barr (Trent University); Sebastian Braun (University of North Dakota); Ashlee Cunsolo (Labrador Institute of Memorial University); Amanda Di Battista (York University); Franklin Ginn (University of Edinburgh); Bernie Krause (soundscape ecologist, author, and independent scholar); Lisa Kretz (University of Evansville); Karen Landman (University of Guelph); Patrick Lane (Poet); Andrew Mark (independent scholar); Nancy Menning (Ithaca College); John Charles Ryan (University of New England); Catriona Sandilands (York University); and Helen Whale (independent scholar).

The Research Behind Attutauniujuk Nunami/Lament for the Land

Over the past 18 months, I have had the pleasure of working with people throughout Nunatsiavut, Labrador to film, produce, and release a documentary film about climate change impacts on the land, culture, livelihoods, and wellbeing in the region. On September 21st, we released Attutauniujuk Nunami/Lament for the Land online, for free, to share the voices, experiences, and wisdom of the speakers with the world.

It’s not a flashy film. It’s gritty. It’s raw. And it’s full of voices and stories that still, no matter how many times I’ve watched and listened to it, elicit strong emotions and deep respect.

Now, I’m pleased to share a video that gives a glimpse into the research that led to this film, and provides some insight into why we should all be thinking more about the impacts of climate change on our minds and on our mental wellbeing.