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Climate anxiety: How Climate Change Affects Mental Health?

Climate change is happening to Earth, a new survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries finds climate change causes deep anxiety.

By Ground report
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Jammu and Kashmir facing worst impact of climate change

Climate change is happening to the Earth, a new survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries finds that climate change causes widespread and deep anxiety.

A 2021 survey of 10,000 children and young adults in 10 countries, found that 59 per cent were "very or extremely concerned" about climate change, and 45 per cent said that concerns about climate change negatively affected their daily lives and ability to function. and more than 75 per cent said the future was "frightening" for the environment.

Climate Change Affects Mental Health

The findings are in line with a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February of this year. The IPPC revealed that the rapid increase in climate change poses a growing threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, bereavement, and suicidal behaviour.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly a part of our daily lives, and there is very little mental health support available for individuals and communities coping with climate-related hazards and long-term risks,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department. Environment, Climate Change and Health of the WHO.

The impacts of climate change on mental health are unevenly distributed, and certain groups are disproportionately affected based on factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, and age. However, it is clear that climate change affects many of the social determinants that are already causing massive mental health burdens around the world. 2021 WHO survey of 95 countries found that only 9 have so far included mental health and psychosocial support in their national health and climate change plans.

“The impact of climate change is exacerbating the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally. There are almost a billion people living with mental health problems; however, in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to necessary services,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “By increasing mental health and psychosocial support within disaster risk reduction and climate action, countries can do more to help protect those most at risk.”

Key points

The survey surveyed 10,000 young people, ages 16 to 25, in 10 countries. The countries were the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Portugal.

Young people were asked their views on the following statements:

  • People have failed to care for the planet: 83% agreed globally, UK 80%
  • The future is frightening: 75%, UK 72%
  • Governments are failing young people: 65%, UK 65%
  • Governments can be trusted: 31%, UK 28%

For the first time, a poll links young people's concerns to government inaction - 58% said "governments are betraying me, future generations or both."

The authors say young people are embarrassed by government inaction. They say environmental fears "have a profound effect on a huge number of young people."

According to them, chronic stress due to climate change increases the risk of mental and physical problems. And if severe weather conditions worsen, there will be consequences for mental health. The report says that young people are particularly affected by climate fears as they develop psychologically, socially and physically.

What is Climate Anxiety

Climate anxiety - also called eco-anxiety or, sometimes, ecological grief - is a concept that began to be used more than a decade ago, although it has become popular in recent years after its foray into the scientific field.

Climate anxiety refers to the worry, frustration, pain and even anger associated with the reality of the climate crisis and the continued failure of governments to act with the urgency it requires. People feel betrayed by their leaders and are scared for the future. These are uncomfortable and difficult feelings, but they are a perfectly normal and healthy response to the destruction of the natural world and political inaction.

They also mention their own survey, from February 2020, which showed that "68% of the adults surveyed said they had at least a little eco-anxiety or 'anxiety and concern about climate change and its effects'", and “48% of young adults, between the ages of 18 and 34, acknowledged feeling stress in their daily lives due to climate change.”

Research conducted on children shows that adults not doing anything about climate change bothers them, they feel that their elders have cheated them and left them alone to face the ill effects of climate change.

Who is affected by eco-anxiety?

A first American study conducted in 2018 shows that 92% of the population of this subcontinent say they are concerned about the future of the planet. But above all, 72% of "Millennials", people aged 18 to 34, report suffering from symptoms characteristic of eco-anxiety.

More broadly, a scientific survey conducted in 2021 in ten countries has enabled 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 to express themselves on these subjects: it has shown that 59% of them are very worried about the climate trajectory in which we are engaged.

More than 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, helpless and guilty at the time of the survey. More than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily lives. Many pointed out that their anxiety was linked to political decisions perceived as ineffective and as a form of betrayal by the generations that preceded them.

Climate anxiety, therefore, seems to be particularly prevalent among young adults, who on average have a better knowledge of these topics. Moreover, they will be in their prime when the impacts of climate change will be most visible.

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