Ashlee Cunsolo: Mourning Nature: The Mental Health Impacts of Ecological Grief in a Changing Climate (ASI 2016)

Mourning Nature: The Mental Health Impacts of Ecological Grief in a Changing Climate

Ashlee Cunsolo, Labrador Institute of Memorial University

Anthropogenic climate change has been an increasing global concern, and with the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report, it is clear that we are facing a new planetary reality for decades to come. The resulting changes in climate and environment are anticipated to have widespread, profound, and unequally distributed impacts on global mental health, particularly among populations who rely directly and intimately on the environment for sustenance and livelihoods, such as Indigenous populations, fishers, and farmers. Indeed, emerging evidence from nine years of community-led and community-directed participatory research in the Inuit Settlement region of Nunatsiavut, Labrador indicates that changes in climate and environment, and the resulting disruption to land activities, were a direct and indirect threat to mental health and well-being, and led to: intense emotional reactions associated with loss of activities, identity, and sense of place (grief, mourning, anxiety, stress, distress); real and potential increases in consumption of drugs and alcohol; potential increases in suicide ideation; and potential to aggravate acute anxiety disorders and major depression. Climate change was also reported to act as a magnifier for other forms of stress and distress and to highlight socio-economic inequalities, leading to further negative ramifications for mental health and wellbeing. This presentation will draw on 9 years of community-based and community-led research in the Inuit Settlement Region of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, examining the numerous ways in which a changing climate and environment is impacting mental health and psychosocial wellness, and combine it with theoretical and praxiological work on the role of grief and the work of mourning when it is expanded to encompass nature and the more-than-human worlds. In so doing, this presentation will seek to examine how mourning and grief can expand associated political and ethical dialogues and discourses, and provide new insights for mental health programming and adaptive responses.

Ashlee Cunsolo, PhD, is a passionate researcher, environmental advocate, and ally, working with research and policy to make a difference in how we live with and in this world. As a community-engaged social science and health researcher working at the intersection of place, culture, health, and environment, she has spent a decade working with Indigenous communities and leaders across Canada on a variety of community-led and community-identified research initiatives, ranging from climate change impacts on physical and mental health, cultural reclamation and intergenerational knowledge transmission, suicide reduction and prevention, land-based education and healing programs, environmental grief and mourning, and Indigenization of higher education. She is a pioneer in climate change and mental health research, and has given over 200 talks and received wide media attention for her work. In 2014, she released a documentary film, collaboratively produced with the five Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, about the impacts of climate change on Inuit culture, livelihoods, and wellbeing (www.lamentfortheland.ca). She is currently the Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities at Cape Breton University, and an inaugural member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists and one of Nature Canada’s 75 Women for Nature.

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