Dealing with climate and environmental anxiety (Ympäristöahdistuksen mieli)
This is a short summary of the project Ympäristöahdistuksen mieli (2020–2022), directly translated The Mind of Eco-anxiety.
The name of the project is a wordplay in Finnish. The Finnish word mieli means both mind and meaning. Thus, the project title asks people to think about the meaning in and of eco-anxiety. It also links with both the dynamics of the mind and the MIELI organization (Mental Health Finland), the world’s oldest non-profit organization for the protection of mental health.
Goals of the project
The most important goal of the project is to address people who are vulnerable to emerging eco-anxiety (environmental anxiety), i.e. anxiety relating to the current ecological crisis of our planet: those working with or studying environmental sciences, people with a strong environmental identity, young people, individuals with other burdening life experiences, students, etc. Our goal is to offer them psychosocial tools to protect their mental wellbeing and the possibility to share and build supportive communities. These in turn will increase overall emotional resilience.
We aim to train different organisations, actors/operators and professionals in the society to incorporate the knowledge about eco-anxiety and eco-emotions (i.e. emotions relating to the planetary ecocrisis) in their work with different groups of people; e.g. health and social sector professionals, teachers and those who work with young people.
We aim to raise public discourse on eco-emotions and how emotional skills can improve mental wellbeing in the era of ecocrisis.
History and cooperative partners of the project
The idea for the project was initiated by Tunne ry, a non-profit organization that was specifically founded in 2018 to address issues of mental health relating to climate and environmental change. It is jointly implemented with two other Finnish organisations: Nyyti ry, an organisation that promotes mental health among students, and MIELI Mental Health Finland, which seeks to provide crisis support and prevent mental health issues in the Finnish society. MIELI is the world’s oldest non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to mental health. STEA, the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations in Finland, provides funding for the project.
Activities: what do we do in practice?
All our activities are free of charge to the participants. Methods and tools we use are research based and widely practiced in general mental health services. We apply several frameworks and emotion skill orientations and adapt different tools to the context of eco-emotions: especially Acceptance and Commitment therapy and Compassion-focused orientation. In addition, dialogical perspectives and enhancing mentalisation have proved beneficial, and many other orientations can provide useful materials and tools too. In practice, the focus in our activities is on expressing and finding words for the emotions and examining how they feel in our body. We focus on how the emotions can be met with empathy and understanding, how we can find and follow our meaning and most important values, and how all this can promote our mental wellbeing and ability to act in appropriate ways according to to our values.
Main target areas and activities
1) Workshops and group support sessions for people affected by eco-anxiety.
- Initially the main focus was on a 5-session support group model, focusing on recognizing and dealing with eco-emotions, learning coping skills, building a supportive community and strengthening future perspectives.
- However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic live support groups were not possible and only online support groups could be offered.
- Supportive workshops involving only one session seem to be preferred. These workshops have similar contents, but in a shorter and less in-depth format than the 5-session groups. Three-session groups are currently being tested.
- These activities are organised and facilitated by mental health and social work professionals working in the project. Volunteer facilitators are also being trained by the project personnel, in order to extend these activities throughout the country in the future.
- Rural communities and farmers have been addressed in their own online support chat sessions.
2) Training for professionals in social and health care and education (teachers) encountering eco-emotions in their work. More than professionals 700 were trained in 2021 in workshop training sessions (2h) or webinars (3h).
- Professionals working in the fields of education, health and social work are highly interested in gaining knowledge about eco-anxiety and other eco-emotions.
- Tools to facilitate discussion and discover their pre-existing emotional and psychosocial skills to be applied in the area of eco-emotions
- Tools to recognise and process eco-emotions and eco-anxiety with their target groups and among themselves
- Most of these training sessions are being arranged for specific work communities, but we also arrange a number of more general webinars, with guest speakers. We look for speakers who are willing to share their own personal experiences and thoughts of encountering the ecocrisis and eco-emotions.
3) Awakening public discussion about mental health impacts and needs in the ecocrisis and about the importance of mental support in providing solutions to the crisis.
- Most notable way of achieving this goal was through an awareness campaign in March 2021 (called Let’s talk about eco-emotions). All nationwide mental health related organisations were involved in an Environmental Emergency declaration which was launched in a live stream event together with the Finnish Shouting Man (https://en.ilkkahautala.com/the-shouting-man) attracting awareness to eco-emotions. The campaign was notified in national news media and other media channels, and it was successful in many social media channels.
- We get constantly a number of invitations to different events, in which we present our project and themes in short information sessions. In 2021, our activities reached more than 400 people, and raised awareness on what it is like to experience eco-emotions and how future resilience is needed.
- In addition to basic information, we collected essays by different experts, practical tools and references to scientific research on our website ymparistoahdistus.fi. We also produced several podcast episodes.
How did we do in 2021?
In 2021, we organized about 30 workshops and groups for those experiencing eco-anxiety. About 360 people attended these activities. The title of the workshops and groups was “Let’s talk about eco-emotions”. In addition to these, a total of about 1,160 professionals, who work with people affected by eco-anxiety, took part in about 30 trainings and informational events. To support the activity, a Small Guide to Environmental Anxiety – Information Pack for Teachers and Educators was completed. The material has also been translated into Swedish.
The Ympäristöahdistus.fi website was launched in February 2021 to collect and provide up-to-date information on the topic. The website has approximately 35 information packages and other new material, which have been viewed approximately 4,350 times. The number of followers of the Instagram account @ymparistotunteet (Eco-emotions in Finnish) increased to 660 and about 750 individual viewers were reached through the account each month. Altogether, the above described Let’s talk about eco-emotions -awareness campaign reached approximately 3.57 million views on various channels.
Where did we succeed?
According to the feedback we received, most often the participants thought that our activities were useful and improved their ability to recognise and process eco-emotions. The majority felt their wellbeing was increased and those who answered to the question about changes to their resilience, thought that their resilience was also improved. The participants commented that they had got new perspectives and ideas and the session had been enlightening and well arranged. As project workers, we have also felt a sense of common understanding and supportiveness in our sessions, which has been rewarding.
Limitations of our project
The fact that all activities had to be held online due to COVID-19 has affected our ability to reach out to the people and to connect with them. Sometimes the online channels have not been optimal for forming real supportive group dynamics.
The link between emotional support and environmental questions is still new and not yet well-known to many, and it has proved important to explain this linkage over and over again. Sometimes in our activities it has been difficult to facilitate the group to focus the discussions on emotional skills rather than comparing individual climate actions. This in turn has made it clear how much emotional skills are needed to protect our wellbeing when dealing with environmental questions.
What about the future?
There is a growing demand for more information on environmental emotions. We are planning to extend the project over to the year 2025 if new funding is available. The extension of the project will be called Environment and Future in Mind.
We are happy to share our experience in this very mindful project. Do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to know more or would like to invite us to speak at your event.
The European Climate and Health Observatory under EU-lead European Environment Agency constructed a case study of our project on their website.