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Eco-anxiety is Impacting Young People

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Eco-anxiety is the chronic fear of environmental doom. Psychologists are seeing disproportionate impacts on children and young adults. But we can all take steps to address this risk and protect the health and well-being of young people.

Eco-anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. But research shows that certain groups face greater risk of experiencing eco-anxiety. This includes young people, indigenous groups, and people who are more connected to the natural environment.

Increasingly extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, floods, and severe storms are leading to a rise in eco-anxiety in young people.

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    How eco-anxiety impacts young people  

    Even if young people aren’t generally worried about climate change, they may be worried about specific extreme weather events that happen close to home.

    And if it seems like leaders are not addressing the problems, young people may worry even more about their future. They may start to feel a loss of hope.

    Anxiety and depression currently account for more than 40% of mental health disorders among young people. While eco-anxiety is not a mental illness, it could become a contributing factor.

    There are common signs to look for:

    • Low mood
    • Helplessness
    • Anger
    • Losing sleep
    • Panic
    • Guilt

    It’s normal to feel distressed or anxious about the world, but these feelings can be especially overwhelming and hard to manage at a young age.

    What you can do to help young people

    Whether or not you believe there is a climate emergency. Whether or not you feel anxious about our climate. As a caring, compassionate adult you can help young people that are dealing with eco-anxiety.

    • Listen without judgment and take their feelings seriously
    • Reassure them that their feelings are valid and are a sign they’re a caring person
    • Encourage them to spend more time in nature. Take a walk or plant seeds together.
    • Work with them on ways to reduce their carbon footprint
    • Connect them with reliable sources of information on climate mitigation and adaptation
    • Support them to take action so they feel more hopeful and in control.
    • Connect them with groups of young people who have similar concerns
    • Help them advocate for more adequate government responses.
    • Model ways to care for their mental and physical health.

    Many young people feel like the burden of solving the problem is on their shoulders. Remind them there are many people working on solutions to make our world happier, healthier, and safer.

    Eco-anxiety as a catalyst for change

    Our young people are collectively experiencing a mental health crisis. Eco-anxiety is a real part of this crisis. Climate challenges threaten our long-term security. If anything, it would be strange to not worry about these challenges!

    But eco-anxiety can also be seen as a strength. It shows awareness and is a healthy response to the crisis we are facing. Being eco-empathetic or eco-compassionate can lead to change.

    Human beings are part of the global ecosystem, so any threats to it are also direct threats to us and our well-being. Anxiety can be a positive force that leads us to take action against these perceived threats.

    Eco-anxiety is on the rise. Many symptoms overlap with generalized anxiety. YIPA’s training, How You Can Help Youth Manage Anxiety, is a great resource for youth workers. It’s free for YIPA members and just $30 for non-members.

    About the author

    Paul Meunier is the executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Paul a question or share your feedback about this blog, email paul@yipa.org.

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