The climate crisis is already affecting children and young people, both physically, developmentally, and emotionally. Climate-related anxiety, worry and lack of hope for the future are growing problems that affect young people’s mental health. A recent Swedish survey showed that six out of ten young people between the ages of 12 and 18 are worried about the climate – and only half of respondents felt hopeful that we will solve the climate crisis. Likewise, a recent UK survey with 2,000 children showed that nearly three quarters (73%) said they are worried about the state of the planet right now, and 17% reported having their sleeping and eating habits affected by their concerns. When children and young people learn about the seriousness of the climate crisis, and at the same time do not see that adults are acting forcefully enough, anxiety, frustration and anger can arise. Many feel that the adult generation is failing them. The good news is that as a parent, grandparent, teacher, or other adult who cares about children, you can play a key role in helping children and young people deal with knowledge about the climate crisis.
With 97% of climate scientists agreeing that climate change is caused by human behaviour (Cook et al, 2013), and 87% of Australians surveyed across the country also accepting that climate change is real, happening and driven in some way by human behaviour, it is clearly time to move to action. People are experiencing more climate induced mental health issues.
The mental health impacts of climate change can be direct or indirect and include ‘eco-anxiety’ (chronic fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster), ‘ecoparalysis’ (feelings of powerlessness and inability to act on climate change), and ‘solastalgia’ (distress and sense of isolation arising from the gradual loss of solace from one’s changing environment).
“Climate change is an issue that many young people are worried about, and which deeply concerns their future lives. Having the opportunity to share and act on their concerns about the climate crisis can boost young people’s self-efficacy, hopefulness and resilience while dismissing their feelings and denying or ignoring the climate crisis can negatively impact their wellbeing (Hart, Fisher, & Kimiagar, 2014; Ojala, 2012; Sanson, Van Hoorn, & Burke, 2019)”.
Parents can support young people by empowering their children to be involved with climate change discourse and mitigation efforts by:
- being great role models in their own climate change understanding and activism.
- listening to their children’s concerns and encouraging them to be interested in and active in social justice and climate change issues.
- supporting them in the choices they make around their involvement in social justice and climate change issues (for example, driving them to meetings of a group they are part of, letting children form their own viewpoint).
They thought it was important that parents recognise that it is their children and grandchildren who will inherit the consequences of the climate crisis.
Furthermore, The Australian Psychological society has put forward eight simple but important “best practice” insights from psychological science to help people come to terms and cope with the profound implications of climate change, so that they can stay engaged with the problem, see where their own behaviour plays a part, and participate in speedy societal change to restore a safe climate.
These eight insights make the acronym A.C.T.I.V.A.T.E, and their hope is that it will ACTIVATE the public into more effectively engaging with the challenge of climate change:
Acknowledge feelings about climate change to yourself and others and learn ways of managing feelings so you can face and not avoid the reality of climate change.
Create social norms about protecting the environment so that people see that ‘everyone is doing it’ and ‘it’s normal to be green’.
Talk about climate change and break the collective silence so that more and more people see it as a risk that requires action.
Inspire positive visions of a low-energy, sustainable, zero carbon world so that people know what we are working towards and can identify steps to get there.
Value it – show people how their core values are often linked to other values that are about restoring a safe climate, and that caring about these issues actually reinforces their core values.
Act personally and collectively to contribute to climate change solutions and feel engaged and less despairing.
Time is now. Show people that climate change is here, now and for sure, so they see it is timely and relevant to them and impacts the things that they care deeply about.
Engage with nature to restore your spirits and connect with the very places that you are trying to protect.
Please ensure that if you find your mental health being impacted, reach out and get some support from us here at Hume Anglican Grammar.
Carly Dober - School Psychologist