Do you get angry when you see someone littering? Idling their car? Not doing something when the ought to, like recycling or neglecting to bring a re-usable water bottle when they could have? Do government and law frustrate you to no end with their inadequate environmental protection policies? Do environmental impact assessments just piss you right off? Welcome to the mental state of an environmentalist.
Future generations are already pissed off at the state of the world
I’ve often thought that having counseling programs for coping with these daily assaults would be a very helpful thing for people concerned with the environment. After some time, it just isn’t feasible anymore to be pointing out eco-un-friendly behavior… people like me just then wouldn’t stop talking because these things are happening everywhere, constantly.
We’d just be regarded as negatrons, which can really decrease influxes of party invitations. It can turn inward and make an angry little pit in your gut that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough to help save the environment, which can leave one with feelings of inadequacy.
Theodore Roszak was one of the first to make it public that this was an important field to get into. Combining ecology with psychology created the new term ecopsychology, which looks into why people behave in ways that are damaging to the planet. The International Community for Ecopsychology takes a more holistic approach that has a large healing component for personal and planetary health.
There isn’t much out there that seems to take the mental health of environmental practitioners into account. This much neglected field is ripe with opportunity for helping environmentalists (and other activists, I’m sure) deal with feelings of defeat and long-term problems. Companionship and community groups often provide this service through friendship and discussion groups, but I’m of the opinion that sometimes, we need a little something more to help deal with the gloom.
City smog is a constant reminder that we need to try harder
Some of the problem lies in the fact that many people think the planet is just fine. In an urban setting, we’re so cut off from clear-cutting, oceanic pollution, cod stock crashes, environmental racism and so-on that we think everything is just hunky-dory, a-o.k. It’ll all work itself out, so why should I make the effort to put my soda can in the recycling, even if the bin is right next to the garbage can?
It can really make you go crazy. Crazy people tend to need psychological counseling. This is a healthy thing. If anyone out there has thought the same thing, your services will probably be welcomed for all us nut-jobs who have a hard time dealing with shit like this.
ACTivist magazine was well aware of this back in 2004, when they published an article discussing the not-so-fun side of activism. Burnout is a common problem amongst many activists and some of my peers during my university adventures would often comment that they wished they could just do activism and forget all this academia. Doing this could really make a difference rather than that stats assignment.
Others took it in stride, forgetting that they had school to do at all, cramming at the last minute. I am interminably jealous of the ability to block your “caring” sensors in order to function like regular folks, because things can become overwhelming.
I am aware that many environmentalists suffer from anxiety, just due to the fact that the work that they accomplish doesn’t seem to do enough to help the state of the planet. The funny thing is, many people use their anger and turn it into something positive, like activism. This is the process of doing something constructive with your energy, rather than sitting with it and letting it stew.
I think it is only after a few years that one may get discouraged and feel the need to “seek help”, especially when it feels like we’re all screwed because Mr./Mrs.Dude/ette threw their McDonald’s wrapper out of their hummer while smoking and wearing a fur coat made by the undernourished children of Java while listening to Bon Jovi on their tape decks with their patent alligator leather belts, driving to the pet store to buy exotic fish and birds all the while letting their hummer idle. Nope, not gonna let them get me down, even though they’re the ones whose habits need to change. See what I mean about the crazy?
The future Mr. and Mrs. Dude/ette
It isn’t my intention to be defeatist here. Activists and grassroots organizing make incredible strides. Many important social movements began by students who stood up for their beliefs, like the Civil Rights movement. This type of lifestyle is incredibly rewarding. Part of it includes learning how to accept failure, something that we’re taught to fear in society. This incredible capacity to learn from mistakes is one of the things that makes activism and grassroots efforts so incredibly powerful.
As Margaret Mead so poignantly said, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world — indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” It is a stressful venture, though and a little help would probably help those who dedicate their time to fighting for our planet and its inhabitants.
Well, it was remarked somewhere that those with the highest rate of depression/suicidal ideation were dentists because of the reaction to “and what do you do?..dentist? oooh I hate dentists!” Food for thought how the challenges of environmental work can provoke despair and burnout due to the immensity of the challenge. Those on the cutting edge never have an easy time going against the flow. Keep up the good work!