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JMU expert: Mental Health Awareness Month ends, climate anxiety discussion not over

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Mental Health Awareness Month ended Wednesday but a James Madison University professor thinks the discussion about anxiety related to climate change should continue.

“Eco-anxiety is a rational and logical response to the catastrophic nature of what we’re witnessing with regard to climate change,” said Debbie Sturm, a professor of graduate psychology at JMU.

Sturm said improvements are needed regarding how and when to discuss mental health.

Sturm said people, and especially today’s youth, have a logical response “to something pretty utterly terrifying that’s happening around us now and feels very much out of our control and influence.”

Sturm said there are three ways that clinicians see climate change affecting mental health.

One is the mental health impacts of just thinking about it, realizing it.

Another is when people are directly impacted by events such as hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves.

The third is existing mental health conditions combined with climate anxiety.

“People have a hard time making the connection and we don’t know how to talk about it. We don’t have the language to talk about it, we don’t know where you’re supposed to talk about it or how,” she said.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.