Over the past several years, climate change-related news has become more frequent. Events like extreme heat, severe storms, devasting floods, disappearing lakes, and a melting “doomsday glacier,” have prompted environmental and social-emotional advocates to acknowledge the growing trend — climate anxiety.
A Yale expert, Sarah Lowe, discussed this phenomenon’s psychological and physiological impacts. During an interview, she said, “Climate anxiety is fundamentally distress about climate change and its impacts on the landscape and human existence.”
“That can manifest as intrusive thoughts or feelings of distress about future disasters or the long-term future of human existence and the world, including one’s own descendants.”
Physiological symptoms associated with anxiety include the inability to focus. People also report feeling nervous, restless, and tense.
“A nationally representative EdWeek Research Center survey, conducted last fall, found that 37% of 14 to 18-year-old youth feel anxious when they think about climate change and its effects.”
Additionally, more than a third of the 10,000 students surveyed felt afraid, and many expressed feeling powerless, helpless, and overwhelmed.
According to EdWeek, Earth Rangers completed another recently conducted study. This organization works with children to recast their climate anxiety into action. They found that 80% of the 1,000 surveyed 6 to 11-year-olds in the United States are worried about animal extinction, climate change, and the planet’s future.
The results of climate-related despair present profound consequences for youth.
Some report having difficulty deciding “where to attend college, whether to stay in their hometowns as adults, and whether to have children.”
Furthermore, experts warn that these feelings could negatively affect young people’s ability to function daily.
Croix Hill, a 16-year-old junior at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, spoke about her concerns.
“I feel like generally there’s a lot of hopelessness among people my age. When talking about it, people are just kind of like, ‘Well, whatever. We’re not even gonna have a planet in 50 years, so it doesn’t even matter.”
Young Americans and Climate Anxiety
Britt Wray, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, authored a book entitled, “Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in the Climate Crisis.”
She concedes that people of all ages experience climate anxiety. However, Wray says it is most common among young adults. She reports seeing this same anxiety in children from grades 8 through 12.
Because this problem is something every adult needs to be prepared to handle.
Experts warn that school counselors and teachers are not prepared to help students. Parents are not ready either.
The main reason is that climate change education is incomplete in United States schools. Social media and news organizations also create stress over the climate crisis with factual and conspiracy theory stories.
According to the European Geosciences Union, between 2017 and 2022, the number of climate change-related English-language news media articles with weather hazards mentioned in titles climbed.
There were nearly 150 million of these anxiety-inducing articles during those five years.
While the flow of news reports cannot be stopped, it would be nearly impossible for youth to be banned from reading them.
Fortunately, the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) led a coalition of researchers to address helping people with climate anxiety.
They surveyed 300 undergraduate and graduate students from universities in America.
The team found there was a difference between students involved in group activities to address climate change who did not suffer from climate anxiety-related depression.
Furthermore, the students who participated in “collective activities — including community outreach, peer education, participation in advocacy groups, and more — climate change anxiety was not significantly associated with depression symptoms.”
YSPH Assistant Professor of Public Health Sarah Lowe, PhD. also the study’s lead author, said, “There is definitely more research to be done, and we can’t make any claims about causality or the direction of the relationships.”
Nonetheless, she said the results “could be a promising way to address the real problem of climate anxiety.”
Meanwhile, psychologists have ramped up their plans to determine how best to handle the crisis. They do warn parents against minimizing their child’s concerns.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Education Week: How Teachers Can Help Younger Students Deal With Climate Anxiety. By Madeline Will
European Geosciences Union: Is there a climate change reporting bias? A case study of English-language news articles, 2017–2022; By Chloe Brimicombe
Yale Sustainability: Yale Experts Explain Climate Anxiety
Yale School of Public Health: Collective action helps young adults deal with climate change anxiety; By Matt Kristoffersen
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