Eco-Anxiety and Other Labels Derail Social Activism, Cohen Says

Professor of Social Welfare David Cohen was featured in a Mad in America article discussing the mental health industry’s response to growing concerns about climate change. As the impacts of a warming planet have become more prominent, a new refrain has emerged that climate change causes mental health problems requiring treatment, including fear, sadness, eco-anxiety and PTSD. According to Cohen, the pathologizing and medicalizing of feelings about climate change derails social activism. He explained that the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” frame negative feelings in response to climate change as pathologies or illnesses inside individual brains that require psychiatric or psychological treatments rather than social-political solutions. Instead of encouraging social activism and environmental advocacy, this medicalization “enfeebles us, making us feel dependent on ‘expert’ health professionals to help manage these feelings,” Cohen said. He concluded that these medicalized diagnostic labels undermine the citizen empowerment necessary to effect change.


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