Research: Climate Anxiety in Children and Young People and their Beliefs about Government Responses to Climate Change: A Global Survey
Authors: Caroline Hickman, et al.
Abstract/Extract: Mary Burke, MD, has chosen this research as one of three reports for a new section on climate change in this quarter’s Annotations, prepared by the ACLP Guidelines & Evidence-Based Medicine Subcommittee.
This is the first large, global study of young people’s psychological response to climate change. The researchers surveyed 10,000 children and young people, aged 16-25, in 10 countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the US—1,000 participants per country).
“Across multiple geographic and economic demographics, young people report feeling high levels of distress, and betrayal by their governments for failing to act,” says Dr. Burke. “Climate anxiety is a practical, non-pathological response to reality. However, the pervasive experience of anxiety about the future can exacerbate other anxieties or increase vulnerability to mental illnesses.”
Young people in India and the Philippines reported the highest levels of distress—74% in both countries reported that their worry impacted functioning, and 35% and 49% respectively reported they were extremely worried. Young people in the US reported the least distress, with only 26% reporting impact on function, and 19% reporting extreme distress.
The authors build on smaller-scale studies they have done previously. They do not specifically address mental illness per se but, rather, negative feelings that correspond to feeling betrayed by those in power. Their closing comments are: “As a research team, we were disturbed by the scale of emotional and psychological effects of climate change upon the children of the world, and the number who reported feeling hopeless and frightened about the future of humanity.”
Importance: Mental health clinicians who treat young people should be aware of the increasingly pervasive and intense pessimism about the future in these generations.
Availability: ACLP’s Annotations this quarter is here.