Mental Health in a time of Climate Emergency

Dear Readers,

The following two documents explore the theme of mental health in a time of climate emergency. Next week will see the largest single act of civil disobedience the United Kingdom has ever witnessed, as the non-violent direct action group, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ again take to the streets, squares and bridges of the capital.

What does it mean to speak of ‘mental health’ at this time? 

One of the many interesting elements of Extinction Rebellion is that they explicitly discuss emotions. The more one explores their outputs, the more it becomes apparent that they view themselves in part as a mental health service! Not only do they offer ‘wellbeing tents’ at their protests, but they also create videos about emotions and coping with distress. They encourage each other into action by sharing not just their understanding of the scale of the emergency, but by sharing their grief, too. For Extinction Rebellion, non-violence is not just a means of protesting but is also an attitude one has within oneself. They repeat that feelings of hope are not necessary in order to participate.

If Extinction Rebellion is offering a mental health service, what are its understandings about mental health? In the following documents, RMN Jonathan Gadsby attempts to explore an important set of ideas and principles that leaders within the Extinction Rebellion Movement have claimed to be very influential to them. Their 90 year-old author, Joanna Macy, describes them as ‘biocentric deep ecology’. What it has to say about mental health is very different from the kinds of statements made in ward rounds and team meetings within our mental health services in the UK. In many ways they view environmental health and mental health as the same thing. Read on….

The first document is a conference paper – a ‘provocation’ – Jonathan was asked to give on the subject of resilience, in which he choses to focus on this ‘deep ecology’.

Arguments about the science of psychiatry and arguments about its politics have been enmeshed for a long time. Frequently, the argument looks to be about evidence but it is shot through with political values which are either unconscious, unacknowledged or deliberately hidden.

The first of the following two pieces introduces a new player in this game: ‘biocentric deep ecology’.  It brings science that genuinely hits psychiatry very hard – some of the same science we have seen before and some new data too. Yes, many of the same people with the same political views have sought out this science, but it is a science that really seems to draw people towards political conclusions of its own, and they are not entirely like the usual ones. Within this science-value hybrid, psychiatry is seen as a set of mistakes that play into the hands of planetary destruction. That probably is not what mental health professionals want to hear. Perhaps it explains their relative absence from the growing group of medics and other health professions who are vocally joining Extinction Rebellion and will be present at the protests next week.

The second piece is a table, which provides a summary and key to the paper. It puts biomedical approaches alongside their common left-wing and libertarian criticisms, and then all of them are set against ‘biocentric deep ecology’.

Resilience in the 21st Century

Table of ideologies: biomedical, left-wing, libertarian, deep ecology

Jonathan would be delighted to be emailed with comments, feedback, agreements or disagreements! jonathan.gadsby@bcu.ac.uk

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