SU students and faculty discuss the toll of climate change studies on mental health

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Content Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse.

Sarah Pralle often thinks about the possibility of her young daughter choosing not to have children because of the adverse effects of climate change.

“I sometimes think about the hot summer we’re having and I think, ‘this could be the coolest summer we’ve ever had’…that’s a weird thought,” said science teacher Pralle. politics at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Citizenship and Public Affairs.

The negative psychological impacts of global climate change, such as anxiety and feelings of helplessness, are felt by those who study the phenomenon at the SU.



Along with her worries about future generations, Pralle also said she sometimes stops consuming environmental news for a few days in order to take a “mental break” from a topic that she says can be overwhelming.

Dominic Wilkins, a PhD student studying geography and the environment at Maxwell, also expressed his anxiety over climate change.

“It (can) send you into a spiral or…a rabbit hole as you realize and learn just another way that certain people somewhere have caused some kind of destruction,” he said.

Wilkins thinks looking at crises throughout history can provide insight into the impact of climate change.

“People have struggled under conditions and faced disasters far worse than many people will end up having to face, simply because of particular histories, power dynamics and geometries in which they have lived,” said Wilkins.

Nearly 40% of 16-25 year olds say climate change has made them hesitant to have children, and more than 75% say they are afraid of the future, according to a survey by The Lancet Planetary Health in December 2021.

A December 2021 report indicated that an increasing number of people, especially in low-income and non-white communities, are suffering from adverse mental health symptoms due to the impacts of climate change.

Surya Vaidy, who studies environment, sustainability and politics at Maxwell, said progress is being hampered by negativity.

“But there’s also this feeling of helplessness like this is ingrained in society, it’s the established mode of what’s being done,” he said.

Vaidy said taking action is the way to tackle climate anxiety, even if it just means becoming more informed or discussing climate change with peers.

surya vaidy sweater quote graphic

Stephanie Zaso | Design editor

Chie Sakakibara, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Maxwell at SU, researched the Inupiat tribe of Alaska – a group of about 750 indigenous peoples who have lived on the Alaskan tundra for centuries. millennia – for more than 18 years. In the 1970s, the Inupiat people migrated inland to escape rising sea levels, she said.

Currently, the tribe is planning to relocate again due to rising sea levels and a dwindling population of wildlife around them, Sakakibara explained. Recently, she discovered higher rates of suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse within the Inupiat community, but she still holds out hope.

But the Inupiat tribe is making its voice heard, Sakakibara said. The tribe sends delegates to international climate change summits, influencing policy makers in Alaska and working with other native tribes such as the Inuit tribe in Canada to increase their visibility.

“I feel the…stress that people are going through right now,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for the community to really start building a network with other Indigenous communities around the world.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Vaidy recalled one of his former teacher’s advice about hope.

“Hope is an active process,” Vaidy said. “We have to work on it, we have to be actively involved and continue to educate ourselves.”

Editor’s note: Surya Vaidy is a photographer for The Daily Orange. He does not influence the editorial content of the News section in his capacity as a photographer.

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Teresa H. Sadler