Today is World Mental Health Day, and, as we face a daily onslaught of uncertainty and negative news stories, it’s a useful opportunity to reflect and re-calibrate.
I’m a worrier. Always have been, probably always will be. In the spirit of #EndtheStigma today, I don’t mind sharing that I live with anxiety and depression: some days are A-OK, others are quite the struggle. I feel deeply and care passionately, especially about people and the planet, so the times we are living in at the moment can seem, at times, quite overwhelmingly miserable and hopeless.
The planet is in crisis – of that I have no doubt. And, as I work in sustainability education, I feel duty-bound to gather as much information as I can about the current situation, in order to demonstrate to others the magnitude of the issues. I don’t think we should stop finding and sharing that information, no matter how terrible the reality may be.
But we can’t only focus on sharing the doom and gloom, not least because it is mentally and emotionally draining, but also because it causes some people to stop listening – perhaps because they don’t believe it, or perhaps because it’s just too much to bear, or perhaps because they think disaster is inevitable.
I had the pleasure of meeting a self-proclaimed Climate Optimist at a conference once, and her book is one I have read a number of times – one that I go back to and dip in and out of when I need a bit of a shake out of the doldrums and back into the land of hope in the future. I highly recommend it – it’s called The Happy Hero, by Solitaire Townsend.
It’s helped me be mindful when I am talking to people in general about environmental crises, and especially when I am talking to young people. It’s helped me re-frame the way I talk about these things, and, in fact, we are now trying to change the term ‘problems’ into ‘opportunities for change’ in our core programme at work.
She mentions the Thomas Theorem, the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies: “Believe we’re all doomed, and then there’s no point in acting to avoid disaster , thereby actually guaranteeing it. But believe the future can be awesome, then by preparing for that, you’ll radically increase our chances of getting there. The same is true for any belief about climate change. Either we the public believe we can solve it or we don’t. And this belief is more important than any regulation or technology could ever be.”
As Solitaire says, “…what we should be doing is planning our bright future and getting our kids excited about tomorrow.”
I interact with young people through my job at Solutions for the Planet, through my community group Keep Bromsgrove Beautiful, and through my role as an Eco-Schools Green Flag Assessor. The number one thing I want all those young people to take away is belief. Belief in themselves. Belief that they can make a difference. Belief that there is good in others, and that ALL of us can make a difference. And the courage to take action, and support others to take action too. To take control of their future, guided and supported by those with more years of experience and knowledge.
I started this by telling you I am a worrier. So I don’t want you to think that I find it easy to be an optimist, and that I am able to channel all this positivity with no effort at all, or that I am always successful. But, truly, what helps, is working with young people. In the last couple of weeks I have stood surrounded by young people on a Climate Strike in Birmingham, moved by their passion and spirit; I have been lifted and inspired by the young members of the Bromsgrove Boys Brigade as they enthusiastically led me in a local litter pick; the Year 8 Science sets at John Henry Newman Catholic School, Solihull, with the incredible Big Ideas they generated on our Big Ideas Day; and the Years 3-6 members of the Eco Committee at the Junior School I visited, who had endless questions about and ideas for improving their local environment.
When I listen to them, and I let myself absorb some of their curiosity, eagerness and energy, the future looks brighter to me.
Written by: Sarah Milburn
S4TP Programme Manager
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd