Sunrise. Illustration from Froggy Family’s First Frolic, by Margot Fass. Photo credit Michael Rivera.
Froggies and people, with or without mental health issues, generally want to see the sun rise.
Maybe it isn’t amazing, but it is interesting that Mental Health Awareness Week (October 1-7) is smack in between NYC Climate Week (September 17-24) and Global Climate Change Week (October 16-20).
A Frog House dates deliberately correspond with these current issues:
- October 8, from 1 to 5 pm, at our final event of 2023 at 65 State Street:Frogs, Climate Change, Hope and Action
- October 10 rain date at the Pittsford Community Center at 6:30pm
Read about our plans here.
Review of Frogs, Climate Change, Hope and Action Part I
Gradually A Frog House has enabled me to more and more integrate my interests, and finally pull in my training as a psychiatrist.
The blog Frogs, Climate Change, Hope and Action, Part I, published on Sept 19, reviewed ways of how the climate crisis adversely affects mental health, and conversely, how poor mental health exacerbates the climate crisis.
Here is a summary of information from the American Psychiatric Association symposium in 2022, although in this case, perhaps the picture above is worth a thousand words.
- Acute trauma>[lead to or result in] acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, prenatal maternal stress.
- Death from disasters> bereavement, complicated grief.
- Heat waves> violence, substance use.
- Drought> suicide risk in rural communities.
- Post-disasters> depression, anxiety, child behavioural problems, increased mental hospitalizations.
We are the Problem and the Solution: Improving Our Mental Health Through Nature.
The only way to reverse the downward spiralling path of natural destruction and human misery is to recognize that we are both the problem and the solution, or to put it more clearly, as humans, we are ruining nature, but nature can heal us enough to help her.
“Apart from nature lies ruin. As part of nature, we can thrive.”
At a recent outdoor seminar held by Rochester Ecological Partners, we were lucky enough to have the company of environmental giant Jonathan Schull, founder of EcoRestoration Alliance, and author of the above quote.
In a small group, Jon was remarking to participants that the one positive thing each of them could do was to regenerate the piece of land, big or small, that they themselves stand on.
One young teacher was saying, “but that’s not enough! [the problem] is the big oil and chemical companies and financial interests, and we can’t do anything about them.”
In non-violent terms, can we put aside the blame, and see what we all can do together to help?
It is not helpful to tell the heirs of our planet “our generation ruined things for you, now you have to fix it,” and I think that was the angst the teacher was experiencing.
Can we recognize the truth that there have been foresighted people for generations who have been sounding the alarm and doing what they can to staunch the destruction?
Most people don’t recognize or care about a problem until it affects them personally.
Now that climate disasters are becoming commonplace, perhaps we can be hopeful that we now are reaching enough of a critical mass of people who recognize, accept and are doing something about the Climate Crisis problems.
Imagine, if we turn that hour glass portrayed above over, it will certainly take time to reverse the damage, but at least things might go in the opposite direction. We cannot give up or think it is too late, but work to turn the tide before it is.
Our Internal Environment, Allowing Nature’s Food to Heal.
If you could reduce climate heating emissions, water pollution and land use by 75%, the destruction of wildlife by 66% and water use by 54%, would you do it? Would you sacrifice eating meat and animal products of any kind?
According to the Guardian, a vegan diet massively cuts environmental damage. Citing a University of Oxford study published in 2018, this is exactly what we all easily can do, while saving money and being healthier as well.
In the interest of honesty and scientific integrity, there are studies that claim the opposite.
However, many vegans give up meat without considering ways to supplement the benefits that meat provides, such as iron, B12, folate and protein. Also, a so called “vegan” diet could be just substituting highly processed foods for meats.
By attending to all of the nutrients our bodies need, we can have the best of both worlds, or “have our cake and eat it too.”
But, a warning on cake: refined sugar can increase depression and anxiety, as can fried and processed foods, food additives and caffeine.
Also, our bodies are made up of about 60% of water. Did you know that according to the World Journal of Psychiatry, even drinking plain water can reduce depression by about 50 to 75% in women and men respectively?
All the more reason to keep our water clean for Froggies and people.
Our External Environment, Allowing Exposure to Nature to Heal.
It seems to bear repeating that “the solution is in the problem”. In order to be willing to do the work required to help our natural world, we need to have good mental health.
As it happens, the healing lies in nature herself.
A 1991 study by Ulrich et al showed how visual and sound exposure to natural environments has a greater potential to reduce stress than exposure to urban environments, like a pedestrian mall or a heavy-traffic area.
As shown in the figure below, skin conductance, which is a measure of stress, decreased much more sharply in individuals exposed to natural environments after a common stressor period, indicating a much faster and more complete stress recovery upon exposure to nature.
Similar results were found for other stress parameters, such as blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate, in alignment with predictions of the restorative influences of nature.
This study cited above only showed images of nature, but part of the “work” to get mentally healthier is to literally go outdoors and “play”:
- a 90-minute walk in a natural setting compared to a walk in an urban setting resulted in reduced rumination and decreased subgenual prefrontal cortex activation – two factors associated with depression and melancholy. Bratman et al, 2015
- a 20-minute walk in a park compared to a walk in less natural environments resulted in better concentration in children with ADHD. Taylor & Kuo, 2009
- a 4-week wilderness camp increased the participants’ relationship with nature and promoted multiple dimensions of well-being — decreased perceived stress and negative emotions; increased relaxation and positive emotions; increased sense of wholeness and experience of transcendence — in addition to facilitating social connections. Warber et al, 2015
- green, natural environments are associated with lower respiratory and cancer mortality —- decreased environmental pollution, noise, heat, stress. They also mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing wastewater loads and sequestering carbon. They encourage increased physical activity and social engagement, all resulting in better mental health. James et al, 2016
Can We Separate our External and Internal Environments?
In a book called Biophilia, by E.O. Wilson, the author states “… that our natural affinity for life―biophilia―is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species.”
Because we seem to be born with a love for nature, if we are out of it, we experience a sense of loss of place, and of “parent.” (aka solastalgia, described in Part I of this blog)
On the other hand, if we are out in it, we enjoy other benefits, including physical activity, social interaction, stress reduction, and attention restoration, providing secondary reinforcement to being in nature.
Our presenter on October 8, Carter Remy, founder of Next Generation and You, reports his own benefits from nature:
- a sense of self
- stimulated and alive
This is important, because we tend to be more loving when we have these feelings. Caring for the something or someone that brings us this wholeness can make us even more loving of ourselves and others.
Permaculture and Sustainability
The following is excerpted from Permaculture Ethics:
“Earth Care: Rebuild natural capital...Our forests and rivers are the lungs and veins of our planet, that help the Earth live and breathe, supporting many diverse life forms. All life forms have their own intrinsic value, and need to be respected for the functions that they perform – even if we don’t see them as useful to our needs.”
People Care: Look after self, kin and community...People Care begins with ourselves and expands to include our families, neighbors and wider communities. The challenge is to grow through self-reliance and personal responsibility. Self-reliance becomes more feasible when we focus on non-material well-being, taking care of ourselves and others without producing or consuming unnecessary material resources.”
Fair Share: Set limits and redistribute surplus…Established fruiting trees are likely to produce more than one person can eat. It takes time to pick and preserve the harvest, and there are limits to how much fruit we can use. There are many ways that we benefit from giving a fair share of the bounty to others in our community.”
As my friend Patty Love of Barefoot Ecological Design, Resilient Systems for All Beings, is fond of saying, Permaculture ethics and principles apply to any and all systems.
A case in point is the application of these principles to the questions of improving mental health, described in Permaculture Association, Change Your World, 2017. This article includes the following topics: mental health, how permaculture could serve as therapy, benefits and challenges of permaculture designs as mental health therapy, a case study, and further reading.
I totally recommend reading this piece in full.
Take Action, Stand Your Ground.
At age 11, Greta Thunberg stopped talking and eating. Her family was distraught and sought professional care for what was diagnosed as autism, and a devastating case of climate anxiety.
Once the problem was identified, the family, including her mother, an opera singer, worked together and enabled her to speak out about her concerns. A tween found her voice. She became a vegan.
The results shortly followed: she was named a Time’s Person of the Year in 2019, has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, and has spoken to environmental groups all over the world.
Now 20 years old, Ms. Thunberg has been the recipient of over a million dollars, which she has given away.
The Guardian published parts of an article by Ms. Thunberg on October 8, 2022, “On the climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’” She concludes: “We need real zero [emissions]. And we need honesty.”
In Thunberg’s words “My message to all the activists is to just keep going, and I know it really may seem impossible and hopeless sometimes — it always does — so you just have to keep going because if you try hard enough and long enough you will make a difference.”
Ms. Thunberg certainly has her share of detractors. But like her, none of us can allow naysayers to steal our hearts, our convictions, and our passions for good.
We can’t all be Greta Thunbergs. But she doesn’t act alone. She, and other people like her in the front lines, need support.
At A Frog House, we want to do everything we can to help each person find their voice – what is your concern, what can we do about it?
Eco-anxiety in and of itself is not necessarily pathological, if it is based in reality and we take appropriate action. We can develop resiliency, know what there is that can be done, and have the confidence that we can do it.
With family, friends, mentors, role models, students, teachers …”It’s time to stand our ground’”