Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (962.67 kB)

Explaining and approaching eco-anxiety: A theoretical and auto-ethnographic exploration of minds in climate crisis

Download (962.67 kB)
posted on 2023-02-10, 03:17 authored by Mclean, Lucy

The negative impacts of climate change are widespread, and detrimental to human lives and livelihoods. These effects will continue to worsen. The responses of institutions and political systems to adapt to this crisis have generally not been proportionate to the threats posed, nor successful in reaching internationally agreed goals such as keeping warming within a two-degree range. Many people are understandably concerned about this crisis, and the lack of action, and are reporting associated deteriorations in their mental health. The term ‘eco-anxiety’ has been used as an umbrella term to describe symptoms like those of anxiety or depression felt by people who are very concerned about this socio-political and ecological problem.

In this thesis I consider how a systemic problem like climate change becomes experienced as personal distress, and how psychologists might ethically respond to this. To do this, theoretical research is combined with auto-ethnography to develop explanations about eco-anxiety, consider the ethics of therapeutic intervention, and imagine what therapy could look like. Across the five chapters, I consider the current tensions that exist in our ways of understanding eco-anxiety, and how this sits within a broader context of a mental health system that uses dichotomous ways of thinking about distress as either normal or abnormal. I adopt an embodied way of thinking about eco-anxiety, paying close attention to the structures – neoliberal, authoritarian, socio-scientistic institutions – that shape eco-anxious minds and proliferate climate change. This embodied understanding of eco-anxiety also sees people, and their bodies, as sites of agency. In the final chapter, in an embodied process of writing, I draw on queer theory, a theoretical lens which has helped me to unsettle harmful structures – and associated dichotomous thinking – in other aspects of my life. This theory allows me to generate ideas about how to help ease eco-anxiety without re-individualizing the problem or undermining the severity of its source. Unsettling these dichotomous understandings of what is normal or abnormal, nature or human, political or personal, helps to locate sites of possibility for approaching this simultaneous crisis of mind and climate.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

190103 Social impacts of climate change and variability

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Wilson , Marc; Thomas, Amanda