Solastalgia: Solace From Distress


Paribha VASHIST distils the word, ‘solastalgia,’ or a sense of desolation people feel when their land, or home, is lost as a result of ‘environment change’ induced causes.

Forty-two-year-old Aalok, who belongs to a poor fishing community in Bangladesh, is worried about the future of his three unmarried daughters. In 2017, his ‘kutcha’ house on the riverbank of Brahmaputra was inundated, compelling him to use the savings for his daughters’ marriages to rebuilding their damaged house. The intensifying weather events in the past years have only exacerbated his worries. He is grief-stricken when he contemplates the potential devastation of his tiny plot. Climate change seems to have heightened the social pressure on him too to marry off his daughters early before he loses everything in any unfortunate climate-induced disaster.

The situation is no different in the Global North.

In 2005, when the city of New Orleans in the United States, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Hannah, who was 61, at that time, lost her ancestral home. Her eyes brim with tears, whenever the images of her devastated home conjure up in her mind, even though she still occupies the same land. The images also remind her of the permanent loss of her childhood memories and the warmth associated with her familial home.

Attachment & Inertia Of Habitual Motion 

Aalok and Hannah feel a sense of anxiety, depression, powerlessness, or a lack of control over the unfolding of events that are radically altering their home environment. They are deeply distressed about being separated from their possessions, especially from the ones that they are emotionally attached to. There are countless other examples of individuals and communities that are at the crux of climate change, such as people living in the Sunderbans, or Jakarta, and they are still reluctant to abandon their homes, because as author Amitav Ghosh remarks in his novel, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, “Contrary to what [we] might like to think, [our] life is not guided by reason; it is ruled, rather, by the inertia of habitual motion.”

Solastalgia: Crux Of The Matter 

The Australian environmental researcher and philosopher, Glenn A Albrecht, coined the term ‘solastalgia,’ which aptly expresses what Aalok, Hannah, and others are experiencing. Derived essentially from two words, sōlācium [Latin derivative for the English word, solace: that which gives comfort] and algia [Greek, for existential distress], ‘Solastalgia’ explains the sense of desolation people feel when their land, or home, is lost as a result of ‘environment change’ induced causes. When we seek solace in a much-loved place that is being despoiled, we suffer from distress. As Albrecht argues, ‘solastalgia’ is a reversed form of nostalgia. It is the homesickness we feel in [rather than for] our own home.

Albrecht’s understanding of ‘Solastalgia’ is based on collaborative field-based research in the Hunter Valley in Australia’s New South Wales, for which he interviewed people living close to open-cast mines. From the interviews, he was able to glean a sense of the participants’ intense psychological and physical distress of having to live and farm close to the mines.

An accurate analysis of Albrecht’s study suggests that the feeling of solastalgia is a response to the loss of traditional cultures and the irreversible loss of home environments. 

Climate Change & Mental Health 

As the global temperature continues to show an unprecedented upswing, and climate change has become ever more apparent, ‘solastalgia’ seems to be a prevalent feeling in global communities. Devastating hurricanes, forest fires, smog-filled air, extreme heat, prolonged drought, deforestation, and uncontrolled urban development, among others, are some of the factors that continue to cause major environmental disruptions.

There’s a growing body of evidence that establishes clear links between the occurrence of these environmental disruptions and extreme, or prolonged, weather-related events with spikes in the frequency of mental health disorders. This also implies that ‘solastalgia’ inflicts many, and most of us fail to recognise, much less diagnose, it.

‘Treating’ Solastalgia 

The first step in the healing process would be to recognise the ‘aetiology’ of solastalgia, not just the unpleasant canvas of its experience per se. This could be through a thorough reflection of our mental condition and the various environmental changes that have affected us in the past. If we are able to make certain connections, we must be more than willing to build a sense of control. This could be in the form of active community involvement in environmental protection, or by taking climate change mitigation and adapting to it at a personal level. This may just be what the good doctor would prescribe to reduce the guilt that is often associated with solastalgia. Last, but not the least, developing resilience, communication, patience, self-agency, anxiety-management, and positive thinking, are all crucial in dealing with solastalgia — smartly, and also effectively.

PARIBHA VASHIST is a first-year Bachelor of Economics student at Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. A voracious reader and a naturally gifted writer, Vashist is zealously passionate about international economics, environmental policy and sustainable development. She wishes to effectively disseminate, in her own simple, yet profound way, scientific knowledge and policy tools to bringing about a positive, healthy change in our increasingly madding world.

1 thoughts on “Solastalgia: Solace From Distress

  1. tom halbert says:

    Hi Paribha,

    Tom here from Nan Tien 2030 Campaign. As you know the journey to sustainability involves many different domains. The inner journey to sustainability with its emphasis on mind, heart and spirit plays a critical role. It puts our attention on our interior condition, which is the place from which we work. This month’s workshop brings the emphasis to living with mutual benefit as an era, the Symbiocene.

    We have the honour of Prof Glenn Albrecht participating in our upcoming workshop on 26th Feb 2022.

    Glenn Albrecht has written about the Symbiocene (‘Earth Emotions’), an era where humans live in symbiosis with planet earth. Symbiocene is one of the ‘new words for a new world’. These words help us to communicate about the feelings we have, about what is happening, and the vision of a co-created future way of viable human living. Glenn also brings to the fore a secular spirituality as part of our journey and being.

    The Workshop

    The workshop is for 1.5 hours. It will be held online via zoom. And would include music, Glenn presenting the substance of the earth emotions, hands on earth art, and breakout discussion rooms. After discussion there would be Q&A.

    The Registration

    Please join us at this event as we all continue the journey

    Tom Halbert
    Co-ordinator Nan Tien 2030 Campaign

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  +  forty three  =  52

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.