With the recent heat waves and other climate-related problems, I have become anxious and despondent about the future. In fact, I am doubtful there will be much of one in 10 or 20 years. My anxiety often keeps me glued to my computer, looking at more and more stories, which tend to get more and more extreme. I have started reading reports of human extinction within the next century, if not sooner.
I sometimes look for articles about the climate crisis that are more positive; but, at best, that gives me a temporary reprieve from the general tenor of the coverage. It makes it almost impossible to do my work. And I can’t avoid these stories, as I teach a community-college course on sustainability. I have even contemplated suicide. What should I do?
—Doomed and Gloomed
You are not alone. Andrew Samuels, a Jungian psychoanalyst and a professor at the University of Essex, tells me that therapists are increasingly hearing from patients who are deeply disturbed by climate change and are struggling to cope.
First, get professional help. Call a suicide hotline whenever you think of taking your own life. Samuels points out that you seem to suffer from depression as well as anxiety. Depression is bound up in loss: You may be mourning the planet and humanity as you might mourn the death of a parent. Therapy helps with depression, and it could also help change your addictive relationship to the Internet.
Depression is also related to guilt. It “stems from ideas that one has damaged or destroyed a loved other,” Samuels observes. “That’s why a normal depression follows a bereavement. There is always more that could have been done.” Sometimes we absorb neoliberal guilt over the environment—the feeling that climate change is our fault because we drive a car or order from Amazon. “I think it is crucial not to take full responsibility for what we have done to the planet,” Samuels says. “Sure, some individuals in the corporate and political worlds are particularly careless and hence responsible. But this doesn’t apply to most of us.”