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'Eco-anxiety' is rising in young people, driven by climate change concerns

A growing number of young people are dealing with stress, anxiety and depression caused by concerns over climate change, according to experts.

Described as 'eco-anxiety', the number of young people affected by the condition are reportedly on the rise, even among those who are not directly affected,

The finding is one of many described in a new briefing paper from Imperial College London that delves into the impact of the environment on mental health.

The paper says that scientific data shows a clear relationship between climate change and the wellbeing of people worldwide, with strong links suggested between increased distress and extreme weather.

Suicide rates are particularly affected – according to the team's analysis, data suggests there is a 1% increase in the number of suicides for each 1°C temperature increase.

Further research has also estimated that an extra 22,000 suicides will occur in the US and Mexico alone by 2050 if temperatures continue rising at their current rate.

Climate change is also having more of an effect on those with existing mental health issues too.

According to the team's research, people with psychosis, dementia or substance abuse are 2 to 3 times more likely to die during a heatwave than people without.

One reason for this, could be that higher temperatures can affect processes that underlie cognition, which in turn worsen and individual's mental health, the author's explain.

Since its release, the report has received several responses in support of better awareness of the growing issue of eco-anxiety.

One response comes from the British Psychological Society (BPS), of which many of the paper's authors are members.

“Counselling psychologists are already working with climate-related distress, as clients bring this to therapy," said Professor Emeritus David Uzzell, from the BPS Climate Environmental Crisis Steering Group.

"It is a growing problem, and this report is helpful in providing evidence to help us understand this. While the report brings home the enormous scale of the problem, it is heartening to see the data so clearly laid out alongside clear policy objectives.”

Read more: Teenagers want safer, cleaner local nature to support their mental health

Professor Emeritus David Uzzell, also of the BPS Climate Environmental Crisis Steering Group, does however raise the question of the actions taken to combat the issue, adding that preventative measures can have a negative effect on wellbeing too:

“As well as the psychological impacts of the climate crisis itself, there are also consequences from the social and economic responses to a changing environment. Including stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, interpersonal conflict and post-traumatic stress disorders.

“For example, carbon-reducing legislation and regulations introduced by government may also serve to contribute further to mental health problems, for example, by impacting on jobs and subsequently identities.”

Despite the scale of the issue, the authors of the report go on to outline ways to improve the situation.

One suggestion is for governments to focus on 'co-benefit' solutions – methods of combatting the effects of climate change that can also benefit mental health.

These approaches include improving air quality, improving housing energy efficiency, and increasing access to green areas.

The latter suggestion fits with the 'connecting with nature' theme of the most recent Mental Health Awareness Week.

According to survey findings released by the Mental Health Foundation as part of the event, 7 in 10 adults say that being in nature improves their mood, yet more than 4 in 10 are not connecting with nature often enough to help their mental health.

The Foundation also released data showing that connecting with nature is a top priority for younger people, with around one third of 13 to 19-year-olds wanting better quality public natural spaces, and more trees and plants to be grown in their neighbourhood.

To read the full briefing report, click here.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health

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