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How Greta Thunberg Channeled Depression Into Planet-Altering Activism

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While climate activist Greta Thunberg has been open about being on the autism spectrum, her father Svante Thunberg only recently divulged that the teen influencer’s activism has also helped her combat depression.

According to a December 30 BBC article and interview with Svante Thunberg, his daughter faced significant depression before entering public life. For three to four years predating her climate strike, Greta struggled mightily with her mental health.

The more she read about environmental devastation, the more despondent the younger Thunberg became: “She stopped talking … she stopped going to school; she was basically home for a year,” her father told the BBC, shedding light on the TIME “Person of the Year’s” past.

Furthermore, Greta stopped eating for three months, which Svante described as “the ultimate nightmare for a parent.” After all, “You need food to survive.” Before her activism, he elaborated, “She could only eat in her own home.”

As a result of her climate justice push, Svante says Greta has “changed.” While in the throes of acute depression, “She didn’t speak to a single person,” he said. “Now, she can do all the things like other people can.”

Svante elaborated that Greta finding her purpose has led to a diametric shift in her mood, “She’s happy; she’s in a very good place,” he confirmed.

Dispelling rumors they had pushed Greta into the political arena, the Thunbergs were not initially supportive of their daughter’s activism.

“Obviously, we thought it was a bad idea, putting yourself out there with all the hate on social media,” her father explained.

The family was firm in its insistence that Greta inoculate herself from the naysayers and disinformation: “[W]e said okay if you are going to do it, then you are going to do it by yourself; you are going to have to be incredibly well-prepared; you have to have all the answers to all the questions.”

Although Greta has been catapulted to international celebrity, her father was founded in his fears that his daughter would be subjected to internet-based vitriol; she is routinely attacked with mean-spirited rhetoric.

“The haters are as active as ever,” Greta was quoted in a September 28 BBC article. “… going after me, my looks, my clothes, my behavior, and my differences,” she said on social media.

Many comments are as shocking as they are tasteless. Reacting to an opinion piece by this author syndicated on Yahoo! News, Greta’s critics spared no mercy.

Although she has dealt with bullying, along with the ableist and infantilizing assertion that the 17-year-old is a “child” and a “pawn for her parents and progressivism,” the latter being this author’s summation of detractors, Greta Thunberg has been unfazed by the criticism.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know how she does it,” her father elaborated in the December 30 BBC article, “but she laughs most of the time. She finds [the criticism] hilarious.”

Even though Svante still worries about his daughter, Greta’s ability to transcend her detractors’ enmity bodes well for her environmental endeavors.

Broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough explains that Greta Thunberg has “aroused the world” on behalf of activism to save the planet. “[S]he has achieved things that many of us who have been working on the issue for 20 years have failed to do.”

After all, at only 16 when she received it, Greta is already the youngest recipient of Time’s Person of the Year, has spearheaded an international climate strike movement and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

As someone who has called autism her “superpower,” and who has channeled her depression into planet-altering activism, there is no telling how much Thunberg will accomplish.

Image via Creative Commons/vpickering

Originally published: January 6, 2020
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