More Koreans to suffer from ‘climate depression’: experts

Although no hard data has been presented, experts believe that the number of people suffering from climate depression will increase significantly in the future.

Lee Jaeeun

Lee Jaeeun

The Korea Herald


Due to an unusual heat wave, the formation of hazardous green algae blooms is observed at Pungam Lake Park in Seo-gu, Gwangju, Wednesday. PHOTO: YONHAP/THE KOREA HERALD

August 18, 2023

SEOUL – A growing number of Koreans are suffering from “climate depression,” after experiencing extreme heat waves, heavy rains and a typhoon this summer, according to local experts.

Although no hard data has been presented, experts believe that the number of people suffering from climate depression will increase significantly in the future.

“Already, the World Health Organization is taking the issue of climate depression seriously. If climate change continues, more and more people may suffer from depression,” said Suh Kyung-hyun, a professor from the department of counseling psychology at Sahmyook University and president of the Korean Psychological Association of Culture and Social Issues.

In June 2022, the WHO urged countries to include mental health support in their response to the climate crisis, as climate change poses serious risks to mental health and well-being.

“Climate change can make people feel depressed because it reinforces negative thoughts about their surroundings and negative thoughts about the future. In particular, if people feel … stressed by experiencing abnormal weather caused by climate change, they can become depressed because they think they can’t control it,” Seo added. He also urged the Korean government to prepare various measures to manage people’s mental health related to climate change.

Climate depression, or eco-anxiety, is defined as the fundamental distress over climate change and its impacts on the landscape and human existence. Eco-anxiety can manifest as intrusive thoughts or distress about future disasters or the long-term future of human existence and the world, including one’s descendants, according to experts.

There is a physiological component to the phenomenon that might include an elevated heart rate and shortness of breath. There is also a behavioral component, where climate anxiety can impact social relationships and daily life.

Many people around the world are known to be suffering from climate depression. According to an American Psychological Association survey conducted in 2019, more than two-thirds, or 68 percent, of 2,017 Americans aged 18 and older said they have experienced a degree of “eco-anxiety,” defined as any feelings of anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects.

Koreans are also affected by the climate change problem. In particular, young people who have been exposed to abnormal climate patterns including heat waves, torrential rains, and drought since childhood take the climate change issue seriously. According to a survey of 500 teenagers aged 14-18 and 500 adults aged 19-59 conducted by the ChildFund Korea in 2021, 63.6 percent of teenagers and 58.2 percent of adults said the negative effects of climate change are already manifesting in their daily lives.

The feeling there is nothing they can do for climate change and the climate depression lead to a lack of will to give birth, beyond just worrying about future generations. In a ChildFund Korea survey, when asked if they had thought of giving up childbirth due to climate change, 43.3 percent of 1,000 respondents answered affirmatively. There were 185 out of the 1,000 respondents who said they actually had given up plans to have kids due to climate change.

Kim, a 30-year-old office worker, withdrew her planned pregnancy recently, after seeing the number of people who died in torrential rains this summer. “I thought it would be better for a baby not to be born because it will be so difficult to improve the global environment.”

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency is in the process of creating a plan to mitigate against the effects of climate change in consultation with experts.

“We would like to push for more measures related to mental health … and climate change is also an important factor,” an official from the KDCA said.

A resident looks at a road in Seongsan-gu, Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, as a typhoon unusually dropped heavy rain on Aug. 10. (Yonhap)

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