People are deeply attached to their place — so what happens when that place is altered or destroyed by elements beyond their control? Dr Laura Beaton wants you to talk to your doctor about climate grief, or ‘solastalgia’.
I spend most of my day talking with people. I’m a GP and so you can imagine that most people who see me are sick, stressed or sad. Together we work out what is going on for them at that time, how much we can put down to a medical problem and how much of it falls into the nature of life’s ups and inevitable downs. I don’t have a diagnosis yet in my practice software for solastalgia, but do I see it? You bet I do. Doctors might not call it that, but I see it.
I see solastalgia in displaced people. Those who have had to move because of climate-related drought, conflict or disaster.
I see solastalgia in grandparents gutted at the future ahead of their grandchildren. These kids are the least responsible for climate change and the most vulnerable to the health problems it exacerbates.
I see solastalgia in farmers whose land is now unfamiliar to them. And I see it in myself at times.
What is solastalgia?
Changes in climate are fuelling worse and more frequent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and floods.
Solastalgia is the word Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht used to describe the feelings of sadness, disconnection, despair, loss and even indignation when people have places they know and love destroyed or fundamentally altered by the impacts of climate change.
It could be seeing a favourite hiking track burnt down by a devastating bushfire. A loved lake dried up and the bird life gone because of severe drought. The backyard flooded and the old familiar plants destroyed in a big storm. Stepping out in blistering heat in sandals when bare feet used to be the norm.
Solastalgia gets to me.
As a young child I grew up mainly outdoors, caring for our gardens that fed our family and exploring the wild nature surrounding our patch of tamed earth. I felt connected to the land that nourished me and it made sense to protect that fiercely.
When I’m outside now I am aware of the fragility of our environment. My family’s farm isn’t the same land it used to be — we are trying to adapt but it’s difficult. The bush isn’t regenerating as it used to after a fire.
I feel a sense of loss for the changes we cannot walk back and am anxious about what is to come. Like some of my patients, I get pretty down sometimes about the state of the planet.
I’ve learned that there are things that help me personally, and you might find them useful too.
When things are getting you down:
Spend time with people you like and respect — and thank those who support you.
Volunteer to rebuild your favourite place or to help future-proof your local neighbourhood, school or workplace — and learn advocacy skills to help you stand up for the environment.
Know when you are in a doom spiral — is every article you read making you feel terrible, nauseous and angry? Give yourself a break. Read fiction, write something yourself, draw, cook. Celebrate the little wins.
Accept that people have different backgrounds, values and priorities. Sometimes, these won’t align with yours.
Exercise around trees. Research suggests this is good for your physical and mental health AND good for the planet. Align your values around sustainability to your lifestyle: I eat a (mostly) plant-based diet, get where I need to go by bicycle, walk, and carbon-offset my unavoidable air travel.
Is your mood low? Make an appointment to speak with your GP about your mental wellbeing.
If reading this story raises any concerns for you, there are SO many excellent places you can go for free help. Start with Lifeline for free and confidential info and advice: 13 11 14