Nurse from British Columbia examines mental health impacts of climate change, helps transform feelings into action
A leader in public health, anti-racism, and equity-based mental health care, Canadian nurse Natania Abebe created a documentary and toolkit to explore the mental health impacts of climate change, and help people cope with their feelings and channel them for change.
“We know climate change is happening,” shares Natania Abebe of Vancouver, British Columbia. “We see it on the news and in documentaries, but it leaves us asking ‘what now?’ or ‘what next?’.”
This concept spurred Abebe to produce a documentary titled “Climate Change and Mental Health” as a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of British Columbia. The film aims to contextualize people’s feelings and responses toward the existential threat of climate change to our health and the health of the ecosystems we rely on.
Abebe’s film explores and tries to make sense of our emotions around climate change – including grief and anxiety – and examines the terms eco anxiety, eco paralysis, and ecological grief.
Throughout the documentary, Abebe attempts to normalize feelings of helplessness while also sharing the message that people have agency and opportunity to create change for themselves and those around them.
Abebe includes many established and new voices in her interviews, with insights from Canadian health professional climate champions Dr. Melissa Lem, Raluca Radu, and Dr. Courtney Howard, as well as six students from the University of British Columbia.
Abebe also developed the Exploring Climate Change and Mental Health Toolkit, a companion piece to the documentary, to help students cope with their anxieties and sadness around climate change and transform those feelings into action.
Abebe sits on the Environmental Justice and Reconciliation Committee within the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment. She encourages nurses who want to get involved in environmental sustainability and take climate action.
“Reflect on your values, ask yourself what areas of environmental work you are passionate about, and tap into your creativity,” Abebe shares. “Promoting awareness on climate change issues and engaging with others helps to leverage change. There are so many different ways to engage with this work.”
Abebe’s film ends with a quote by Helen Keller: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”
With a background in public health and mental health, Abebe has served as a registered nurse since 2017. In 2022, she completed a dual master’s degree in nursing and public health at the University of British Columbia. She is a distinguished recipient of the Professor Jessie Gordon MacCarthy Memorial Scholarship for her leadership in public health, anti-racism, and equity-based mental health care. You can follow her on Twitter @Natania_Abebe.