The Environment and Mental Health: A Guide for Clinicians

By Ante Lundberg | Go to book overview

The great pleasure most people get from natural landscapes, the intense sadness we can feel when watching a forest fire or dying dogwood trees, the strong feelings we can have about animals, all seem to point to a fundamental affinity with the living environment. Wilson ( 1984) named this human attribute biophilia, and researchers from several disciplines have established that experience of nature can indeed have restorative powers (chapters 12 and 13).

Psychotherapists with an ecological viewpoint maintain that emotional responses to the environment are healthy and worth examining as primary mental phenomena. Ecopsychologists challenge notions of individual separateness, of self and other, of mind and matter ( Hillman, 1995; Lifton, 1993). They aim to expand awareness beyond the individual and to develop a sense of connectedness with the world. Among their targets are existential isolation, denial, and grief related to destruction of the environment. Their insights and their purpose merit our attention.

The evidence is inescapable that human activity now modifies the environment everywhere, often irreversibly, sometimes drastically, and that nature itself is hostage to our actions ( McKibben, 1989). We used to assume that nature was large enough to be forgiving, too large even to notice our insults, and almost eternal. In the span of only two generations we have discovered that we have the power to destroy nature, with nuclear weapons or with waste -- and that we may in fact do so, unless we learn to cooperate and take responsibility for our actions. We can still hope that this collective coming-of-age will inform how we see ourselves individually, that we can develop a species consciousness ( Lifton, 1993). The survival of the human species may ultimately depend on it.


REFERENCES

Abe K. ( 1987). Secular trends of suicide seasonality: Association with per capita GNP and sunshine. In Seasonal effects on refroduction, infection and psychoses: Progress in biometeorology (Vol. 5, pp. 205-212). The Hague: SPB Academic Publishing.

American Medical Association, House of Delegates ( AMA). ( 1995). Human health and the protection of biodiversity (Resolution 403). Resolution presented at the American Medical Association annual meetings, Washington, DC.

American Psychiatric Association. ( 1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders ( 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Chivian E. ( 1995, April). Species extinction: The loss of biodiversity and its implications for human health. Paper presented at the conference on Biodiversity and Human Health, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Chivian E., McCally M., Hu H., & Haines A. (Eds.). ( 1993). Critical condition: Human health & the environment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Colborn T., Dumanoski D., & Myers J. P. ( 1996). Our stolen future. New York: Dutton.

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