What Is solastalgia?
When you feel homesick for a home you never left, that’s solastalgia.
Solastalgia is when you feel as if the comfort, or solace, you get from feeling at home in a place has been taken from you, causing algia, which means pain in Latin.
With solastalgia, you are still living in the place you call home, but the environment has changed so much that it doesn’t feel like the same home anymore. When experiencing this uncanny, home-but-not-home feeling, a complex mix of emotions can arise—including grief, sadness, loss of identity, and anxiety.
Anything that changes a place and is outside the control of inhabitants can cause feelings of solastalgia.
Solastalgia can be caused by:
- Environmental changes brought on by the climate crisis, including weather shifts that may increase the likelihood of droughts, flooding, storms, early melting snow, heat waves, and fires
- Natural disasters such as volcanic explosions and earthquakes
- Environmental degradation due to human activity, such as mining
- Destruction due to war
- Neighborhood gentrification or decay
Anyone who feels as if the place they call home is changing in unwanted ways can feel solastalgia.
While the emotion is likely as old as time, solastalgia is a recently invented word. The Australian philosopher Glenn A. Albrecht coined the term in the early 2000s because, as he explains in his book Earth Emotions, “I thought we needed, in English, the idea of a place-based emotion that captures the feeling of distress when an external force, one that we are powerless to prevent, enters the biophysical location…within one lives out a life…and chronically desolates it (Earth Emotions, p. 37).”
Albrecht was inspired by the now-outdated, Victorian use of the word nostalgia. While we don’t use the word nostalgia to describe a medical condition today, nostalgia was originally invented by a doctor in the 19th century to diagnose and treat the feelings of homesickness that Swiss soldiers experienced while fighting away from their homeland.
To make the word solastalgia, which echoes this past version of nostalgia, Albrecht combined the Latin verb solace, which means comfort, and the Latin suffix algos, which means pain.
Albrecht used the example of Edvard Munch’s The Scream to illustrate how solastalgia feels.
Munch painted The Scream during a summer in which a massive volcanic explosion turned skies red across Europe, including in Norway where Munch lived (as you can see in the painting). To illustrate what solastalgia can sound like, here is a translation of the poem Edvard Munch wrote on the frame of the original painting of The Scream (from NPR):
“I was walking along the road with two friends. The Sun was setting —
The Sky turned a bloody red
And I felt a whiff of Melancholy — I stood
Still, deathly tired — over the blue-black
Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire
My Friends walked on — I remained behind
— shivering with Anxiety. I felt the great Scream in Nature.”
Solastalgia in mental health practice
Solastalgia is not a diagnosable medical condition. Feeling solastalgia is a healthy response to experiencing negative changes to your home environment—even if those feelings are long-lasting or chronic. As Glenn Albrecht, the word’s inventor, reminds us, solastalgia is “a condition of existence, an emotion, not a lesion on the brain (Earth Emotions, p. 40).”
Researchers believe that feelings of solastalgia are likely especially strong for indigenous peoples and rural communities, as those groups are particularly closely connected to their natural environment.
Consequences if we don’t reduce carbon emissions drastically
Destruction of the natural environment where humans live will inevitably lead to drastically more solastalgia.
With every fraction of increased warming on earth, environmental destruction increases. Our world in 2022 is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution. In 2022’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate scientists reported that, even now, 3.5 billion people are “highly vulnerable” to the consequences of the climate crisis. If the world warms to 1.6 degrees Celsius by 2100, the world will lose 8% of farmland, which will inevitably have profound mental health impacts on rural areas. That means more solastalgia.
So far, researchers have identified solastalgia among a variety of groups, including:
- In the Hunter Valley in the New South Wales region of Australia, researchers have found solastalgia among local peoples, including aboriginal peoples, whose land is being degraded by coal mining and long-term drought.
- In Ghana, drought has been shown to increase feelings of solastalgia.
- Among the Inuit in Canada, the effects of increasing temperatures have been tied to increasing feelings of solastalgia. Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, one of the study’s authors, commented to the Guardian that “indigenous people are particularly vulnerable because of their deep connections to their homelands and their practical daily knowledge of the local area.”
- A study of female elders on the Erub Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea showed that environmental shifts including increasing tidal surge have led to solastalgia.
- Researchers have identified solastalgia in coal-mining regions of Appalachia in the United States.
- In Indonesia after the 2010 Merapi volcano explosion, researchers found evidence for feelings of solastalgia in communities affected by the disaster.
- After the Wallow Fire in Arizona, in the United States, researchers identified a gap in the intensity of solastalgia experienced by low and high-income residents—those with less wealth experienced higher levels of solastalgia than their richer neighbors.
Next directions for research
In a 2019 review of studies on solastalgia, a team of academics called for future researchers to look more closely at:
- Solastalgia in diverse populations and between genders
- Young peoples’ experience of solastalgia
- The influence of social status and power on feelings of solastalgia
Those same academics also called for introducing more indigenous-led or indigenous-partnered studies.
In a review of Earth Emotions, author by Ben deBruyn argues that Albrecht’s Latin and Greek-based invented words, including solastalgia, would benefit from more inclusion of indigenous concepts that are closely related–words such as the Inuit Uggianaqtuc, which translates to “strange weather,” and Koyaanisqatsi, which translates from Hopi to mean “life out of balance.”
What can I do if I’m experiencing solastalgia?
If you are experiencing feelings of solastalgia, you are most certainly not alone. If you are looking for emotional support resources, groups to join, or a climate-aware therapist, you can find global resources at the Climate Psychology Alliance.
It may help to start a local support group with other people in your area who are going through similar feelings of solastalgia in a similar ecosystem. Consider starting one!Finally, as always, you can take action to prevent further global warming–develop sustainable habits, engage in activism, and educate your community. Research shows that taking individual and collective action to address the climate crisis is not only essential to the well-being of the planet, but also essential to our mental well-being.
Earth Emotions by Glenn A. Albrecht, published in 2019 by Cornell University Press.
Articles and Online Sources
A philosopher invented a word for the psychic pain of climate change, published in Quartz on October 13, 2018, by Zoë Schlanger.
Have you ever felt ‘solastalgia’?, published in BBC Future on November 1, 2015, by Georgina Kenyon.
How the climate emergency could lead to a mental health crisis, published in The Guardian on August 13, 2019, by Anouchka Grose.
How We Cope with the End of Nature, published in Nautilus Magazine on September 7, 2017, by Stephen Marche.
Solastalgia, an entry in the Climate Psychology Alliance UK’s Climate Psychology Handbook.
Solastalgia and the Creation of New Ways of Living (2010), a chapter from the book Nature and Culture: Rebuilding Lost Connections, re-published on Glenn A. Albrecht’s personal blog on July 7, 2021, by Glenn A. Albrecht.
‘Solastalgia.’ Arctic inhabitants overwhelmed by a new form of climate grief, published in The Guardian on October 15, 2020, by Ossie Michelin.
Solastalgia, a 2018 Australian pop album by Missy Higgins.
In the Room with Climate Anxiety, published in Psychiatric Times on November 26, 2018, by Janet Lewis, MD.
Selected Research/Scientific Papers
Albrecht, G., Sartore, G.M., Connor, L., Higginbotham, N., Freeman, S., Kelly, B., Stain, H., Tonna, A., & Pollard, G. (2007). Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australas Psychiatry, 15(1), 95-98. https://doi.org/10.1080/10398560701701288
Askland, H.H., & Bunn, M. (2018). Lived experiences of environmental change: Solastalgia, power and place. Emotion, Space and Society, 27, 16–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emospa.2018.02.003
Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N.R. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Clim Change, 8, 275–281. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0092-2
De Bruyn, B. (2020). Review of ‘Earth emotions: new words for a new world’ by Albrecht, G.A. American Imago, 77(1) 213-222.
Eisenman, D., McCaffrey, S., Donatello, I., & Marshal, G. (2015). An Ecosystems and Vulnerable Populations Perspective on Solastalgia and Psychological Distress After a Wildfire. Ecohealth, 12(4), 602-10. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-015-1052-1
Galway, L.P., Beery, T., Jones-Casey, K., & Tasala, K. (2019).Mapping the Solastalgia Literature: A Scoping Review Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(15), 2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16152662
Hendryx, Michael; Innes-Wimsatt, Kestrel A. (2013). Increased Risk of Depression for People Living in Coal Mining Areas of Central Appalachia. Ecopsychology. 5(3), 179-187. https://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2013.0029
McNamara K.E., & Westoby R. (2011). Solastalgia and the gendered nature of climate change: an example from Erub Island, Torres Strait. Ecohealth, 8(2), 233-6. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-011-0698-6
Tschakert P. & Tutu R. (2010). Solastalgia: Environmentally Induced Distress and Migration Among Africa’s Poor Due to Climate Change. In Environment, Forced Migration and Social Vulnerability. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-12416-7_5
Wang, H., & Horton, R. (2015). Tackling Climate Change: the greatest opportunity for global health. Comment. The Lancet, 386(10006), 1798-1799. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60931-X
Warsini, S, Mills J., & Usher, K. (2014). Solastalgia: living with the environmental damage caused by natural disasters. Prehosp Disaster Med, 29(1), 87-90. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049023X13009266
September 22, 2022: Rei Takver