It’s easy to see why caring for the environment matters on a macro scale. From worries about climate change, extreme weather events, and issues for the agricultural and industrial spheres, we can see how intertwined humanity and the environment are. What few of us stop to consider, however, is how these same environmental issues can have knock-on effects on our ‘micro’ world- our mental health and wellbeing. Today we look at this surprising side to the environmental debate and how better environmental policies and our personal green habits can, quite literally, make our world a happier place.

Adding Stress

While most of us are not wandering through our daily lives, obviously fretting about the changing world around us, that doesn’t mean these ominous messages of climate change and the perceptible environmental changes around us do not profoundly impact us all the same. Anxiety, stress, and depression are running at all-time highs right now. While the changing global climate can’t take all the responsibility for that, it certainly plays a key role.

When feelings of stress and distress run high, especially if generated by more nebulous global factors over which we have little personal control, high-risk coping behaviors inevitably follow.

But the adverse effects of environmental change on mental health don’t just stop there. It has knock-on effects on our lifestyle and well-being. Climate change can lead to issues such as job loss and community change. This, in turn, leads to the loss of shared community resources, the need to relocate or move, and a reduction in available support systems.

So significant are the potential effects of environmental change on our mental health that it’s coined a new term- eco-anxiety. Defined as a fear of climate damage and ecological disaster, we’re seeing more and more of it. One particular ‘test-case’ for these issues has been seen recently in the Greenlandic Perspective study, which notes that the prevalent feeling of living in the midst of a climatic emergency is directly responsible for some volume of anxiety and depression among Greenlanders.

Polluted Bodies, Polluted Minds

Another less-considered link between mental health and the environment comes from the high levels of pollution many of us live with daily, especially in urban environments. ‘Dirty Air’, in particular, has been linked to the manifestation of depression in teens. Exposure to polluted air before age 12 triples the chances of a depression diagnosis in the late teens. Air pollution, strangely, is also more generally tied to feelings of unhappiness and anxiety in city dwellers. And yet, it’s near inescapable in any urban setting.

Likewise, a prevailing climate of poverty, crime, hopelessness, and ambient racism can vastly drag down the quality of life and mental health of those directly caught in its vice. A lack of natural light in poor neighborhoods can also lead to seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

The Tech Crisis

We seldom stop to consider how the shifting technological landscape has impacted climate change, but we should. Convenient as our modern gadgets are, many manufacturing processes used to create them are desperately bad for the environment. And the use of devices, gadgets, and ‘smart tech’ is now ubiquitous. Express VPN’s survey perfectly showcases how the youngest generation is ‘always on’, unable to conceive of a lifestyle without tech gadgets integrated in their lives. Between strip mining, use of non-renewable resources, and a noted lag in the recycling of old tech, paired with constant consumer pressure to upgrade to the latest and best long before the actual lifespan of the device ends, it’s a looming environmental pressure that’s near-impossible to beat.

Improving Mental Health through Caring for the Environment

Suppose there are considerable ties between the state of our mental health and the environment around us. Does that work in reverse, however? Will improving the environment, and being an active, engaged consumer with eco-conscious behaviors, help improve how we feel?

The answer is a yes here, too. On the micro level – care facilities, pleasing to the mind and free of contagions like mold, can notably improve mental and physical health. And on the macro level- green belts, open-air spaces, access to clean water and good air quality, and many other environmental factors help shape a healthier, happier mind.

But, as with many things in life, the solutions are not always simple. Did you know, for example, that ‘environmental racism’ or racial discrimination in environmental policy-making is a hidden concern in the more significant ecological crisis? It’s very difficult to untangle aspects like income bracket, ethnicity, race, culture, and other socioeconomic effects from the broader ecological issues at play. We already mentioned some factors that come down to our micro-environment- access to light, good quality housing, fear of crime and poverty, and so on. Living in a bustling city environment, with noise a constant background feature, can ramp up our cortisol levels and stress. Likewise, ill health through exposure to pollution can drag down our well-being.

Despite this, being an active and engaged eco-conscious consumer can provide a much-needed sense of control and engagement to the mix, relieving some of the stress and fear that come with a nebulous sense of crisis we can’t control. Even simple things- choosing to shop based on their eco-friendly policies, or actively engaging with litter removal programs and recycling- can help the environment and our mental health. The more engaged we are on a personal and community level, the better for us and the environment.

Despite the many benefits of civilization, humanity is still closely linked to the environment around us. From aesthetics and sensory issues through to the quality and health of the natural world, what benefits the environment benefits us and our mental health in turn.

Author

Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

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