Smoke from Canadian wildfires can affect mental health too

JMU Headlines

by Eric Gorton


Harrisonburg, Virginia — Smoke drifting into the U.S. from Canadian wildfires has resulted in health warnings across the northeast and mid-Atlantic and even caused some professional sports leagues to postpone games. 

But physical health isn’t the only thing jeopardized by the smoke. James Madison University professor Debbie Sturm says such events can trigger anxiety related to the consequences of climate change. 

“Eco-anxiety is a rational and logical response to the catastrophic nature of what we’re witnessing with regard to climate change,” said Sturm, a professor of graduate psychology who has been recognized by the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and Counselors for Social Justice, a part of the American Counseling Association, for her work.  

Sturm said climate anxiety is not widely understood, even among mental health professionals, and improvements are needed regarding how and when to discuss it.    

"People have a hard time making the connection and we don’t know how to talk about it. We don’t have the language to talk about it, we don’t know where you’re supposed to talk about it," she said.   

Sturm said people, and especially today’s youth, have a logical response “to something pretty utterly terrifying that’s happening around us now and feels very much out of our control and influence.”  

Sturm said there are three ways that clinicians see climate change affecting mental health. One is the mental health impacts of just thinking about it, realizing it. Another is when people are directly impacted by events such as hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves. The third is existing mental health conditions combined with climate anxiety. 

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Contact: Eric Gorton,, 540-908-1760  

More information about James Madison University, including rankings and recognitions can be found at 

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Published: Thursday, June 8, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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