“Eco-concern is a political problem”

The idea that concern about the destruction of the planet can lead to suffering and pain is not new in the United States.

ecologist Joanna Macy He conceptualized this phenomenon in the early 1980s. However, this concept of eco-concern is new in France. The first French-language eco-psychology congress was held only in 2016 and was organized by the Belgian therapist Martine Capron.

Another in 2019 Charline Schmerber, a French therapist, was one of the first to specialize in the psychological distress caused by current environmental realities.. For these new emotions, she offers individual or group support in the office or outdoors. It is at the origin of the creation of an association

RAFED (Network of Accompanying Professionals Facing Environmental Emergencies) brings together a variety of professionals accompanying environmentally sensitive people. Armed with thousands of patient testimonials, he published a mini survival guide for the eco-concerned in September 2022 in Ph Ray, which provides the keys to living in a depressed climate.

Do you think eco-concern is a pathology?

No, this is a sign of a conscience, a great clarity, awakened to the current state of the world in the midst of an ecological catastrophe. This means that people are clearly aware of what is going on, often very well informed. Therefore, feeling eco-concern is not pathological. However, there are degrees to which this anxiety can become pathological over time. Eco-concern then balances one’s emotional state.

These symptoms manifest with anxiety disorder or even depression. When a person lives whatever is called environmental obsessions, that is, he will look at everything from the perspective of ecology. For example, friends say to each other: “Well, do they see the world like me, do they invest like me?“. We understand that this may affect his personal life, some will question his desire for children, experience sleep disorders. Women may have eating disorders, men, addictions. Then, it may affect his professional life. the meaning of work questions about. People will feel

cognitive dissonances, they will lose all motivation to go to work, realizing that their work is not useful for the planet. Finally, it can affect the sphere of relationships with people who isolate themselves and see less of their friends because they feel misunderstood.

Also, the assumption that can be made is that sometimes it is a bit like “hiding the forest for the trees”. We come to work on eco-concern and realize that there are many other things to go through and work on. These people are pathologically anxious, and eco-anxiety is added to this problem. However, to begin to feel eco-concern is first of all to be well connected with the reality of the world.

So is this reality or an illusion?

A reality. He is the one who coined the term eco-concern in 1996

Belgian-Canadian Véronique Lapaige, a physician-researcher in public health and mental health. He talks about personality disorder in the context of environmental upheaval. He strongly insists that this disorder should not be limited to individual anxiety disorders.

It’s a collective malaise because of what the planet has been through. Of course, there would be no environmental concern if there were no environmental disasters that cause a number of problems, such as pollution, rising waters, or disappearing territories. . This is really the reason that causes anxiety in individuals. We understand that this is truly a population-wide problem.

You are very insistent that it affects the entire population. Why?

Otherwise, we make it a personal problem and miss the point of eco-concern. We will refer individuals to therapists, but we will not try to address the real problem that is causing their anxiety. However, we must do both in parallel: we must find ways to reduce the discomfort of these people, but above all we must find ways to solve the ethical and environmental problems that surround them.

Eco-concern is a political issue, although ecology should be something about our survival as a species, not political. It should affect everyone. It is important to continue to make small gestures for the planet, but at the same time we must be careful with these instructions, because reducing eco-concern for individual problems allows governments not to try to change their actions accordingly, for example.

Paris Agreements. The depoliticization of eco-concern means that we no longer expect anything

“COP” which happens every year.

I was very sensitive

Main survey published in 2021 Lancet about children and young people. The way this research is presented doesn’t really show the impact that governments may have on this environmental concern. Of course, this survey shows that it affects young people and affects all countries of the North and the South. But above all, he says, governments must take urgent action on this environmental concern, which risks becoming a major public health problem in the coming years.

Charline Schmerber has been specializing in caring for people with eco-anxiety since 2019.
Charline Schmerber has been specializing in caring for people with eco-anxiety since 2019.

Many people say that we talk about it too much!

Yes, it’s true that the cumulative doomsday reports and somewhat pessimistic pundits can create collective anxiety, but the patients I see in my office say that hearing other environmental concerns helps them tell themselves they’re not crazy. they are not alone. When they arrive, they say to themselves:Am I crazy or is it the world that doesn’t realize it?“.

That’s why it’s still very important to talk about it in France, because it allows people to express their concerns. In other countries, eco-concern or eco-sensitivity is a word that is still new to us, while it has been around for a very long time. Journalists in France are still struggling to show the truth about environmental concerns because it is so worrying. They will paint portraits of eco-concerned people, but without showing why those people are concerned. However, if we do not show the reality of what is happening from an ecological point of view, even in prime time, people will not get involved, there will not be any collective consciousness, and as a result, eco-concern may become taboo.

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But shouldn’t we protect children from this very disturbing reality?

For my patients who are parents, this question comes up a lot: “Can we talk about this with our children and how?“I think a good entry point to talk about this is to address the issue of emotions, for example,”What scares and worries you in life?“. I also tell parents that we don’t have to have all the answers, but it is important to leave the possibility of dialogue and give the child the opportunity to express his fears. Like everything without binary things. it will be good or vice versa, everything is terrible, especially our answers because it is not.

I am not advocating raising questions in children, but waiting for them to emerge. I remember talking to a teacher who spoke to me “I have a four-year-old daughter, she says to me: “Mistress, are we going to see the end of the world?”. In this case, it is important to open the space of speech and ask these questions: “What bothers you? Where did you hear that, where does it come from?“. You have to tell him real things. The main thing is that if you use simple words, you can talk to the child, not scientific facts, you can master the language that the child will understand. We can use books, which talk about environmental problems or talk about the relationship with nature according to age. From the moment the dialogue begins we also need to be able to solve these questions in the context of imagination, because the question of imagination for children is very important. They have the capacity to wonder, so it is important to work on children’s connection with the living world.

It depends on the time available to the parent. Not all of us have time to go for a long walk in the woods with our kids. So we can make the same connection, for example, with what we prepare, when we cook; vegetables, fruits. You can also take the plants home. The more we understand the importance of this world, the more positive emotions we will feel, the more important it will be.

There is a grief expert who says, “ We cry, what we love“. Children who will be made aware of the living world. Those whose parents try to stimulate this awakening, this empathy, are more likely than others to be mobilized and therefore less anxious.

This is what you recommend in your guide, reconnect with the living world to take action

Yes, because we cannot resign ourselves to the end of the world. I’m not even sure we can accept the environmental problem. I work my patients to death. It’s about making them understand that we live in a world without borders, even if our Western society wants to forget it or erase it since the beginning of the industrial revolution. To be aware of the finite world is also to be aware of our own mortality. We are in a cycle of life, death and life, and indigenous peoples living in contact with nature have deeply understood this.

We need to get back to reality, stop hiding death and celebrate the signs of old age rather than the illusion of eternal youth. The more we tame death, the more integrated we will be, the more difficult life will be. With this work, I really see something transformative in my patients. This gift takes on a different color for them as a form of gratitude for the moments they spend with family or friends or even alone for that matter, moments with living beings.

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