Worrying about climate change is damaging the mental health of young people, according to a new study.
Researchers found that “climate distress” causes a lot of negative emotions in young adults aged 16 to 24 in the United Kingdom.
But they say it may also motivate them to take positive actions for the environment.
The participants were asked about their general mental health and well-being, their distress over the changing climate, how climate change has positively or negatively affected their life and whether they are involved in pro-environmental and climate actions.
The study’s findings, published in the journal PLOS Global Public Health, suggest that existing mental health issues may make a person more vulnerable to climate distress.
Around one in 10 participants reported that they were “highly distressed” and worried about how climate change would impact their future more frequently than any other issue
Although few of the individuals had experienced climate extremes, they reported being upset by the environmental degradation of places they cared about, frustration over the lack of action on climate change, a lack of personal agency, concern over their future and feelings of guilt and shame.
However, highly distressed respondents were also more likely to report finding meaning and fulfillment in engaging in climate action.
Study co-author Dr. Emma Lawrance, of Imperial College, said: “Both positive emotions, such as hope, and negative ones, such as anger and frustration were linked to climate activism, while guilt, shame, sadness and fear were associated with reduced action-taking.
“Overall, the findings present a more nuanced picture of climate distress in young people in the U.K.”
The research team called for further research into why climate distress motivates some people to take action but drives others to inaction.
Dr. Lawrence added: “Even in the midst of the global pandemic, and despite being spared the worst of climate impacts, young UK residents were distressed about climate change.
“Our work suggests that emotions linked to climate change may inspire action-taking, which has implications for how we communicate about climate change.
“Our findings also highlight the need for targeted, climate-aware psychosocial support to sustain young people’s climate engagement and mental health simultaneously.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker