Climate Anxiety and Youth: Prioritizing Mental Health When it Come to Climate Advocacy

With so many people experiencing disastrous events it makes sense that psychologists have seen an increase in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic-stress-disorder, especially in places that are feeling the effects of climate change right now. However, even those not directly affected by the disasters climate change is bringing are being psychologically affected by them.

Extremes are more common and more intense

If you have been following the development of climate change and the ongoing fight against it, you have most likely heard of climate anxiety. 

It goes by many different names, such as eco-anxiety, climate distress, climate change anxiety or climate anxiety, but they all describe the psychological effects of climate change brought by living during the climate crisis.

Especially in recent years, we have seen the disastrous effects brought by a changing climate. It seems every year temperatures are hitting extremes and severe weather events are more common and intense. 

With so many people experiencing disastrous events it makes sense that psychologists have seen an increase in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic-stress-disorder, especially in places that are feeling the effects of climate change right now. However, even those not directly affected by the disasters climate change is bringing are being psychologically affected by them.

The rabbit hole of bad news

With easily accessible, widespread coverage of these events on social media, it is easier than ever to see world events. With the increase in natural disasters and health concerns caused by the changing climate, there always seems to be a new video to watch of the world literally burning. That, paired with the reports scientists have been releasing explaining how the world is heading towards certain doom, makes it extremely easy to fall down the rabbit hole of bad news and become overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. 

Climate anxiety is born from these experiences, and because of their experiences growing up during the climate crisis, youth are especially susceptible to climate anxiety. We are constantly being shown images and videos of the effects of climate change, and many have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness on these issues by sharing on social media. Therefore, it is even easier for youth to get swept up in the flood of anxiety that comes with being immersed in horrifying news.

It leads to youth feeling hopeless, afraid and dejected. In fact, from my experiences talking to my siblings, classmates and friends about the climate crisis, there seem to be two responses.

Firstly: they are extremely concerned about the issue and want to know everything about it. They are constantly monitoring the situation and always have new (and oftentimes depressing) stories to share on social media or during conversations. 

Secondly: they are also extremely concerned about the issue, but the anxiety is so overwhelming that they completely avoid thinking about the problem. Though it is always in the back of their mind, they are convinced we are doomed, that it is too late, that the problem is too large and there are too many obstacles in the way. They hate hearing about new developments because it only adds to their anxiety.

It is apparent in both cases that youth are incredibly stressed about this issue. Climate anxiety is widespread and affects so many people, but youth are carrying the brunt of it.

“Climate anxiety is widespread and affects so many people, but youth are carrying the brunt of it.”

How can youth find a balance between mental health and advocacy?

For youth climate activists, this anxiety might have pushed them into getting involved with a local organization, or creating one of their own. However, being motivated by fear is not sustainable. It only leads to higher amounts of stress, burnout and causes youth to feel as if they are not accomplishing enough to make any difference. It leads to youth dropping out of the environmentalist scene before they can even begin to create change, creating a vicious cycle that quickly deteriorates our mental health.

Obviously, this is not healthy for youth’s development or the fight against climate change. How can youth overcome climate anxiety and find a balance between mental health and advocacy?

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Collaboration and community are key

Engaging in place based advocacy will grow the connection one has to their natural environments and community, and seeing the change you helped create be implemented where you live can be incredibly heartening. As well, activism is not an independent task. Use the support from your team and community. We do not have to solve everything or do everything ourselves – we all have a part to play. Climate activism is not a competition, and collaboration between different groups can produce amazing results and build lasting relationships along the way.

Celebrate the small wins

Climate change is a massive problem, and it is impossible to take everything on at once because it contains so many smaller issues. When your group or a nearby one makes a breakthrough in a campaign or accomplishes something, celebrate that win – no matter how small. We work so hard and are so passionate about what we do, it’s important we give ourselves credit for what we accomplish. This will also help build momentum within our groups and the larger community, increasing motivation and optimism.

Knowing when to step away

Climate activism, especially advocacy, is hard work. Sometimes the best thing for someone’s mental health is turning off their phone and taking some time to recover. This is especially important for young people as we are already leading the fight against climate change and will continue to for many years to come – we don’t want budding climate activists to be snuffed out by the stress of the work before any change can be created.

Sprinkle in some good news stories

Although we are constantly bombarded with the latest depressing news about the state of our climate, there are so many small wins that are overlooked. Take some time to read some good news stories regarding the environment. Negative news always takes precedence in our minds, so combatting it with plenty of optimistic stories will boost motivation and provide a much needed positive outlook on this work. 

Scientists have made it clear that even if we act now against climate change, it is inevitable that the situation is going to get worse before it improves. However, if we can develop the emotional resilience necessary to keep fighting, we can emerge on the other side intact – and in a greener world.

I’ve linked some good news stories about the environment down below – I think everyone needs some good climate news. As well, there is a link to SCGC’s Local Issues Map, so you can see which issues are being debated in your community and start making an impact in your local area.

Click the image for a link to the article.

Like always, let me know your opinions on this subject. Have you or anyone you know experienced climate anxiety, and do you have any other strategies to overcome these feelings? Let me know in the comments down below.

Take care of yourself, and I’ll see you next time,

Blythe

 Blythe Wieclawek

Blythe Wieclawek

Blythe is SCGC's inaugural summer youth advocacy intern. She is a high school student in Orillia, a competitive swimmer, and president of Sustainable Orillia's Youth Council.

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