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li-an-lim-ycW4YxhrWHM-unsplash.jpgIn early September, following a record summer of global warming, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Gutierrez, declared in a speech that the “climate breakdown had begun” and urged global leaders to adopt radical solutions to, “avoid the worst of climate chaos.” This warning comes as no surprise to those who carefully monitor the news on climate change, but to others, such information can be fear- and anxiety-inducing.
In fact, for some, worries related to climate change can become so overwhelming that they experience various levels of distress and functional impairments. The mental health consequences are often labeled as “eco-anxiety,” i.e., “chronic fear of environmental doom” (Clayton et al., 2017, p. 68) or “ecological grief,” i.e., “the grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change” (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018, p. 275). Eco-anxiety and ecological grief are particularly prevalent among young people (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020; Coffey et al., 2021), with one survey finding that 57% of Gen Zers described climate change as a somewhat or significant source of stress (American Psychological Association, 2018). Some people even coined the term “pre-traumatic stress disorder” (Van Susteren, 2017) to raise awareness about the seriousness of this issue. In reaction, many clinicians have developed, and some have even evaluated, interventions to help alleviate eco-anxiety and other climate change-related syndromes (Baudon & Jachens, 2021).
Considering the distressing nature of climate change, it comes perhaps as no surprise that the amount of news coverage given to climate change issues had stalled between 2006 and 2018 around the world (Hase et al., 2021), while natural disasters and extreme weather events had increased dramatically over the same period (Bindoff et al., 2013). Covering climate change-related issues in the news is important as there is a lot of misinformation, e.g., climate deniers, greenwashing, etc. (Lewandowsky et al., 2015). Furthermore, recurring, varied and scientifically sound information on this subject may help foster public engagement, which could lead to social change (Hase et al., 2021). Yet as the numbers of natural disasters and their victims are set to increase dramatically, so will their news coverage, which often solely focuses on its destruction and therefore leaves some viewers with worries and hopelessness (Houston et al., 2012; Berlemann & Thomas, 2019). Recurring news clips on extreme weather events and the destruction they cause are hard to ignore, but avoiding real conversations about these serious issues is precisely how we ended with the Anthropocene.
Although research on the impact of climate change news coverage is still in its infancy (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014), we know it is important for journalists, educators and clinicians to start discussing climate change in a truthful and purposeful manner in public and to adapt messaging to contexts and populations (Wang et al., 2023). A special focus needs to be placed on hope through change and adaptation so as not to foster paralysis, avoidance or even distress among scared viewers (Wang et al., 2023). Thoughtful and considerate knowledge transfer will become especially important over the next few years as misinformation spreads and the people affected by climate change increasingly look for reliable sources of news to reassure themselves (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). Survivors of natural disasters and people impacted by climate injustice will also be looking for information to make sense of their realities, which underscores the necessity for clinicians to engage with media outlets and offer a reassuring but inspiring narrative that will unite people (Wang et al., 2023; Berlemann & Thomas, 2019). Alternatively, the use of stories and popular media has also been effective in the past to help shape messaging and create a collective narrative that galvanized social change (Wang et al., 2023). I encourage researchers and clinicians to connect with their concerned colleagues across disciplines and work together to provide useful, timely and constructive information for the public. Human activity has already carved the first few chapters of our collective story in our air, water and earth; it will be up to us to take this material and make a better story out of it.

Please note that ISTSS has a briefing paper on global climate change and trauma available for download.
About the Author
Josianne Lamothe, MSW, PhD, is an assistant professor of social work at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. Her research centers around children and youth's adaptation when confronted with adversity and trauma and the experiences of those who help them, especially helping professionals. Dr. Lamothe's studies focus on the impact of interpersonal violence, such as maltreatment, as well as natural disasters. She is also a contributing editor for StressPoints Media Matters column. 
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