What Is Solastalgia?

A woman surveying her property, which has been devastated by a hurricane.

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What Is Solastalgia?

Solastalgia

Solastalgia is an emerging form of depression or distress caused by environmental change, such as from climate change, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, and/or other negative or upsetting alterations to one's surroundings or home. This condition brings with it a profound, often long-lasting disruption to a person's sense of identity, belonging, and security relating to where they live.

The concept of this relatively new condition was developed to better explain the particular anxiety, despair, and/or trauma that may be experienced by those whose homes, lands, and/or communities are subjected to unwanted, adverse, or unforeseen environmental changes.

Essentially, an ecosystem in distress can create significant, chronic distress in the people who call these places home. Examples of the types of situations that may induce the condition of solastalgia include:

  • Drought
  • Forest fire
  • Flooding
  • Drought
  • Clear-cutting
  • Mining
  • Smog
  • Extreme weather
  • Other causes of property destruction or change

Overview

When someone experiences solastalgia, their sense of place, home, security, value, and self are undermined.

Generally, this mental health condition, which is sometimes also referred to more broadly as climate anxiety, interferes with the normal interplay between the well-being of our physical environments with that of our mental health—and as researchers, therapists, and doctors are increasingly becoming aware, damage to one tends to negatively impact the other.

When the places that matter most to us—our homes, our lands, and our communities—are disrupted, changed, or threatened, we may also sustain less visible but no less damaging impact that is carried with us emotionally.

Origins

The term for this condition, solastalgia, was created by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht in the early 2000s to describe the unique mental anguish caused by living with the experience of negative environmental change.

The word itself is a combination of the Latin word solacium, meaning comfort (or the English language derivative solace) and the root word -algia from the Greek word algos (which means pain), as in neuralgia (nerve pain) and nostalgia.

In fact, the name of this condition was actually inspired by the concept of nostalgia. However, there are key differences in these emotional states.

Solastalgia vs. Nostalgia

Nostalgia describes homesickness or a state of sadness or longing caused by being away from one's home. It can be rectified by returning there.

This is quite the opposite of solastalgia, which describes the experience of chronic trauma, longing, or hopelessness due to negative or distressing changes to the home or ecosystem you are still in due to the impacts of climate change, weather events, fire, or other environmental factors.

With solastalgia, the home you are longing for can't be returned to—it is there but not the same.

Earth Emotions

Albrecht, an honorary associate in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney, has written a book on the subject, Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, which delves into the relationship between a person's land and their mental health and general well-being.

In other words, solastalgia is a unique form of distress that specifically results from upsetting, unstoppable, often abrupt changes to a person's home and/or larger environment. These changes are becoming all the more common as climate change escalates.

While this condition can be a bit hard to pin down, solastalgia can be thought of as a deep form of homesickness for the home or land of your recent past, experienced while still living in that home or place. People with this condition may feel their sense of place, belonging, and comfort has been eroded or is under attack, causing mild to severe and chronic symptoms of anxiety, depression, loss, distress, and powerlessness.

Signs and Symptoms

Solastalgia encompasses a wide variety of overlapping signs and symptoms that often accompany other mental health conditions. Plus, this condition often presents itself differently in different people and may occur in response to a wide variety of circumstances.

The severity of solastalgia symptoms experienced may range greatly as well. Some people experience debilitating, persistent, long-lasting symptoms, while others have mild to moderate symptoms that come and go over time.

Typically, however, this condition is chronic rather than acute, which means it can last for many months or years after the precipitating environmental event or events began or occurred. It does not usually fade away as a person adjusts to the realities of their new circumstances.

Instead, this is a mental health condition that a person may live with for the long haul, particularly if it is not diagnosed or treated.

Additionally, while many people who have this condition are directly impacted by extreme environmental disruptions, there are others who experience more indirect, less drastic, or more subtle (but still distressing) changes.

Also, it's important to note that among people who experience the same environmental trauma, say a flood or fire, their responses and the impact on their mental health will be unique to each person.

However, there are many commonalities that people with solastalgia often share. Typical signs and symptoms of this condition include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Distress
  • Fatigue and trouble sleeping
  • Feeling ungrounded or unsettled
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Loss of identity
  • Recovery fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Suicidal ideation

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Typical Duration

Another key component of solastalgia is that symptoms of this condition tend to be experienced chronically. The feelings of distress may ebb and flow, but do not tend to be alleviated quickly or easily and are not transient in the way that nostalgia often is. When a homesick person goes home, their nostalgia disappears.

The Solastalgia Paradox

For a person with solastalgia, they are already home, so the quick fix of returning home is not possible. It may feel that there is nowhere to go to escape the devastation that accompanies the destruction or other permanent change in their environment.

Additionally, there is often a profound sense of helplessness that accompanies this condition as these changes are usually out of a person's control.

Diagnosis

Doctors, therapists, and other mental health professionals can diagnose solastalgia. Your mental health provider will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and life circumstances—in general as well as the specific environmental situations that may have precipitated your condition.

The environmental trauma you have experienced or are experiencing will vary according to what has occurred or is happening in the place you live. The details of these events are a key factor in your diagnosis.

In order to best evaluate your condition, it's important that the mental health provider you see understands the environmental circumstances you are experiencing as well as your symptoms and medical history.

Ideally, your doctor or counselor will be familiar with solastalgia and have experience treating patients with this condition so that they are well versed in this newly defined, underdiagnosed, and increasingly common condition.

Related Mental Health Conditions

Pre-existing and comorbid conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, and any other pertinent medical conditions will also be reviewed by your doctor.

For example, a person with asthma may experience heightened symptoms of solastalgia related to events involving fire or pollution. The physical symptoms of having difficulty breathing may intensify their emotional response and vice versa.

Solastalgia vs. PTSD

Additionally, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a distinct but related condition caused by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events of all kinds such as sexual violence, war, acts of terrorism, or natural disasters.

An experienced mental health professional can determine if a person is suffering from PTSD in addition to solastalgia or if only one of the two conditions are present. The same is true for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

Causes

We live in a world of quickly changing environments, with the effects of global warming and human encroachment on nature increasingly evident all around us. Unrelenting hurricane seasons, devastating forest fires, smoke- and smog-filled air, prolonged drought, extreme heat, clear-cutting, and urban development are some of the ways our lives can be impacted.

The stress and despair of experiencing adverse environmental disruption causes the emotional trauma characterized by solastalgia, which can feel especially daunting, relentless, or hopeless for some people.

Research

Solastalgia is a relatively new concept that seeks to address our understanding of the profound links and interplay between human and ecosystem health, particularly in the face of the increasing threats of climate change. It is causing significant environmental destruction worldwide, particularly in marginalized communities.

Specifically, note researchers in a 2019 review study, this condition names the cumulative impacts of climatic and environmental change on mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

While scientific studies specifically on solastalgia are rare (but the field is growing), there is a solid body of research pointing to the significant mental health toll that climate change events can have on people's mental health generally.

In fact, a 2020 descriptive review finds clear links between the occurrence of environmental disruptions and extreme or prolonged weather-related events, including natural disasters, high heat, and drought, with spikes in the frequency of mental health disorders.

It's important to note that not all people who live through a natural disaster or environmental change will develop solastalgia. On the other hand, just the experience of living through climate change can be enough to trigger this condition in some people.

Examples of Precipitating Events

You may have lost your home, or your land or home may be undergoing current damage. Maybe your home environment may be under threat of a future disaster or other sweeping change.

Your home may still be standing but your neighbors' houses were wiped away by mudslides, flooding, or fire. Where a forest once stood behind your home may now be a parking lot, a strip mall, or a coal mine.

The yearly fire season may now mean several weeks trapped inside due to toxic, smoky air. You may be able to smell that ashy air seeping in from the outside, turning your home from a safe and comfortable oasis to a threatened space.

Other Considerations

The above examples are just a few of the possible reasons a person may develop solastalgia. Overall mental and physical health prior to the environmental event are also likely to influence whether a person has solastalgia as well as the severity of the condition and how long it lasts after the precipitating distressing environmental change.

Risk Factors

As we all live on a planet undergoing the effects of climate change, we may all be susceptible to this condition to varying degrees. However, people who live in areas that are more prone to environmental disasters or damage or that are under threat of such events are at added risk of solastalgia.

For example, people living in the Pacific Northwest have been told that there is likely to be a catastrophic earthquake or "big one" in the region in the next 50 years. Worry over the possibility of this impending natural disaster may precipitate solastalgia in some people, just as experiencing the devastation of an actual earthquake may also result in a person suffering from this condition.

Some factors that put people at heightened risk for solastalgia include:

  • Direct impact of a distressing environmental change
  • Indirect (but emotionally significant and distressing) experience of environmental change
  • Living in areas at higher risk of natural disasters such as within flood zones, along fault lines, at low sea level, and in erosion and fire prone landscapes
  • Living in poverty and/or communities of color—overlapping groups that tend to live in areas more susceptible to sustaining greater damage in natural disasters and gentrification or being pushed out by urban growth. These groups also tend to have fewer financial resources and/or access to political support with which to rebuild their lives.
  • Having other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder

Research makes clear that climate change and its negative impact on mental health tends to disproportionately affect people in marginalized or underserved communities. People living in these communities may be at greater risk of developing solastalgia—and of not getting properly diagnosed or treated.

Treatment

While many people endure this condition without seeking help, effective treatments are available. Standard treatments for this disorder include various forms of psychotherapy with qualified mental health professionals.

It's important to work with a mental health professional who specializes in treating patients with this condition so that you get the correct diagnosis and most effective treatment plan. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, and/or lifestyle adjustments, among other options.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy based on the idea that a person's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected. This approach for counseling seeks to redirect and/or alter negative thoughts in order to improve mental health and a person's overall outlook on life.

CBT has been shown to be effective in treating both anxiety and depression and is the first-line treatment for solastalgia.

Other Approaches

Other types of therapy that may be successful include interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy. In addition to addressing the emotional ramifications of their changed or changing environment, people with solastalgia may also benefit from discovering ways to rebuild their sense of place and home—both existentially and practically. Often a combination of therapeutic approaches are used.

Medications

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and/or other medications may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms. Medications are typically used in combination with working with a mental health professional for counseling.

Treatment Challenges

One of the greatest difficulties in treating solastalgia is that much of what is so distressing about this condition is outside of the person's control. The huge, seemingly unstoppable forces (such as tornadoes or tsunamis) often responsible for the environmental changes resulting in this condition are well outside of the sufferer's influence, creating feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and despair.

In treatment, people with solastalgia work on ways to take back their sense of control, hope, purpose, and plans for the future.

Additionally, many researchers believe that not only can the ramifications of environmental disruption on the link between human and ecosystem health be long-lasting but that this distress and despair can be passed forward to future generations. This makes the need to address solastalgia even more pertinent.

Coping

Solastalgia does not have an easy fix, particularly as its causes are all around you and what might normally serve as a refuge—your home, land, and/or community—has been disrupted, damaged, and/or is under threat.

However, simply putting a name to your struggles and understanding that you are experiencing an increasingly prevalent mental health condition can be the start of healing.

Putting Therapy Into Daily Practice

Therapy for this condition will include delving into a person's emotional wellbeing as well as finding concrete ways to address their disconnection from their home and feelings of confusion and/or lack of belonging.

Lessons learned in therapy will need to be put into practice into a person's life. This is where coping and healing will take place on a daily basis. Importantly, recovering from this condition will require both psychological and practical (as in tangible changes to living conditions and/or lifestyle) steps.

Key to the causes of this condition are the ways in which both the emotional and physical realms interconnect in the face of environmental change and the same is true to finding effective coping mechanisms.

Just as learning new coping mechanisms is vital to enduring and recovering from this condition, making concrete, practical life changes can be key to overcoming it as well.

Care for Your Emotional Health and Your Home

There are many effective, practical ways to process the emotional traumas associated with solastalgia. These steps often include both the mental processing as well as the nitty-gritty of restructuring one's life.

Developing skills of resilience, communication, letting go, self-care, patience, anxiety-management, self-agency, planning, and positive thinking are all key to the healing process.

Some other positive ways to cope may include talking about and honoring your loss—and asking for help when needed. Honor and accept that environmental change can have big consequences on the psyche and processing those changes can take time, effort, self-compassion, community support, and often money.

Prioritize Stress Relief and Self-Care

Self-care is particularly important in coping with solastalgia. Simple efforts such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising can help you develop a healthy routine to restart the process of building back your life and your feelings of safety and comfort in your home and yourself.

Anything that you find relaxing and enjoyable may help as well. Possible options that may work for you include meditation, massage, physical activities (such as running or playing a sport), yoga, reading a book, watching a movie, or journaling. Mental health apps can help you find better peace of mind as well.

Make Plans

Making plans for the future, whether big or small, from moving to a new location to redecorating your bedroom, can help. Aim to transform your home back into an oasis of comfort, whatever that means for you.

Possibilities include moving your furniture, painting your walls, or simply setting out flowers. Committing to one action of change daily can help you get started—and help you regain a feeling of control and agency in your life and future.

Coping with this condition will often include rebuilding one's life and home in positive ways, this may include literally rebuilding a home or simply adjusting to the new realities of one's home or surrounding landscape. You may need or want to have a fresh start by moving to a new location or remodeling your current home. Creating new routines, finding new hobbies, and helping others similar situations can help, too.

A Word From Verywell

As our world changes, so do our hearts and minds, and in the case of adverse environmental changes, our mental health may suffer along with the physical devastation—sometimes resulting in solastalgia. However, with treatment and awareness of this increasingly prevalent condition, help can be found to restore emotional wellbeing unsettled by physical trauma to our home or lands.

Solastalgia is a maelstrom of emotions unique to you and your situation—commonly grief, anger, sadness, longing, and anxiety—and an unmooring from the security of your sense of place and home. Coping will take time, conscious effort, and a belief in yourself, your resilience, and in better days ahead.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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