In recent months we've seen a growing understanding of how climate anxiety ( a chronic fear of environmental doom American Psychological Society 2017) is affecting young people. It's obvious that addressing climate change is not just about cutting our carbon emissions but helping manage the real world mental health struggles that young people are experiencing because of a lack of action on climate. After all we're talking about their future.
In the United States the PBS Newshour ran a story with some shocking statistics that shows, if we ever doubted, that climate anxiety is as real as climate change itself.
According to The Generation Lab Survey of Americans aged 13-29 climate change will affect:
- 63% of young people in where they decide to live
- 34% in whether they have kids
- 53% how and where they travel
How many of our kids saw first hand what Sydney and Melbourne were like during the 2019/20 bush fires when our cities were covered in smoke. Young mother Lil Milagro Henriquez said 'Kids as young as 2nd and 3rd grade know when the air is toxic. When we don't talk about climate change or the effects of it that's when young people have a sense of anxiety, hopelessness and disconnect from what they are themselves experience and what adults are telling them.'
It's not just parents that are taking notice of climate anxiety. Doctors for the Environment in a report which you can read here have said that following extreme weather events, made more frequent with climate change:
'Psychological distress has been documented in increased domestic violence, and alcohol and substance abuse increasing and persisting for years following extreme weather events in Australia.Clinically diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, depression and suicide increase in communities impacted.'
So what can we do? Both PBS and Doctors for the Environment note a variety of therapeutic methods but nothing takes away from this main point from the report:
'Focusing on addressing distress at an individual level must not detract from the need for decision makers to take strong policy and legislative action to directly address climate change, the cause of the distress itself.'
Climate action must be multi pronged, both in developing methodologies to manage acute and chronic long term psychological distress caused as a result of the climate crisis but also never ending advocacy for courageous emissions reduction targets.
The worst thing we can do is tell young people the problem doesn't exist, denial which only creates further distress, they see with their eyes the climate crisis and are feeling it as well. We must tell the truth and give the next generation hope through our advocacy.