A paper published in medical journal Lancet says worsening environment is impacting metal health of young people. Researchers call this impact “climate anxiety”. They say climate anxiety might not constitute a mental illness but climate change and insufficient government action are “potentially inescapable stressors; conditions in which mental health problems will worsen”.
Climate anxiety is also called eco-anxiety” or “eco-distress” and the researchers say previous studies have shown that psychological distress about climate change exists, with affective, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions.
Researchers from the United States, United Kingdom, and Finland surveyed 10,000 young people (aged 16-25 years) in 10 countries. Data were collected on their thoughts and feelings about climate change, and government response.
Over 50% of respondents said they had felt afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and/or guilty. The emotions least often reported were optimism and indifference. Respondents endorsed a range of negative thoughts, with 77% saying the future was frightening. Among those who said they talked with others about climate change (81·2% of the sample), almost half (48·4%) reported that other people had ignored or dismissed them.
As severe weather events linked with climate change persist, intensify, and accelerate, it follows that in the absence of mitigating factors the mental health impacts will follow the same pattern, say researchers.
Respondents across all countries reported a significant amount of worry, with close to 60% saying they felt “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily lives. These varied by country, but levels were high across the board. Countries expressing more worry and a greater impact on functioning tended to be poorer, in the Global South, and more directly impacted by climate change; in the Global North, Portugal (which had dramatic increases in wildfires since 2017) showed the highest level of worry.
Researchers say the results of their survey demonstrate that large numbers of young people globally regard governments as failing to acknowledge or act on the crisis in a coherent, urgent way, or respond to their alarm.
Researchers call for new research on what they term an emerging public health crisis, with support for children facing a future severely damaged by climate change. They say public discourse should encourage the expression of feelings that 60% of young people in this survey have described as being ignored or dismissed. These feelings are important, and they indicate the care and empathy young people have for our world.