The COP26 climate conference in Glasgow is coming to an end. Many young people are disappointed by the lack of progress at these historic talks, despite their high hopes.
They may be feeling anxious about their future, considering they’ll be bearing the brunt of the impact of decisions made over the past two weeks.
Soon-to-be published research will be published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental HealthAccording to research, most Australian teenagers are concerned about climate changes.
But that’s not necessarily a problem. For some, growing concerns can drive them to take action.
There’s a word for this concern – eco-anxiety
Eco-anxiety is a term that refers to worry and despair about climate change. Connected terms include “ecological grief”, which reflects grief related to ecological loss. Emotions such as fear, guilt and angerAbout climate change.
We are aware adults experienceThese are all climate-related emotions.
However, understanding young people’s views about climate change is important as they are more likely to be alive to experience its worst potential effects.
Climate activism has also been a major focus for young people, including the School Strike 4 ClimateMovement involving millions of young people all over the globe
Given the level of young people’s worry or concern about climate change we identified in our study, we may see their views becoming more influential as they reach voting age.
It is crucial to listen to these concerns about climate change. However, only 13% of young peopleAustralia believes that government leaders listen to them.
We asked young people to talk about climate change.
Our study tracked the concern and worry about climate change among more than 2,200 young Australians over a period lasting eight years. Participants were between 10-11 years old at the beginning of the study. By the end, they were aged 18-19.
75 percent of young people (18-19 years old) expressed concern or concern about climate change. However, we also discovered different patterns in climate worry over time.
About half of those polled had moderate or increased levels of worry over the years. Over the eight years of our monitoring, 13% of them maintained high levels or had maintained moderate levels of worry.
However, 17% reported a persistently low level of worry. Some young people became less concerned over time.
Teens with high levels or persistent climate worry were more likely to experience depression at 18-19 than those who were more moderately concerned. However, those who increased their climate-related anxiety over time did not experience depression.
This means that a greater awareness and concern for the environment is not associated with mental health problems.
At 18-19, those with a high level of climate anxiety had greater engagement with news and politics.
There are some good things.
Normal to feel anxiety and worry. Anxiety can be a useful tool in protecting us from danger and threat.
Some people may also be motivated by fear to address climate change.
Although we didn’t specifically study activism in our study previous studiesClimate worry is often associated with greater personal responsibility to make changes that reduce the effects of climate change.
Anxiety can also be a problem if we are unable to control our anxiety, avoid it, or if it gets in the way.
Our study found that climate worry is not associated to mental health problems in general for most young people.
However we don’t yet know the relationship between climate-related worry and mental health difficulties in younger children, as our study only looked at mental health outcomes at age 18-19.
What if your concerns seem overwhelming?
As we see the effects of climate change around our world, worrying about the environment is rational and grounded.
It’s OKYoung people can feel anxious. And we shouldn’t assume these worries are unproductive or necessarily associated with broader mental health difficulties.
Recognizing and validating emotions is important. Young people may be able to support them in taking action if they wish.
It is encouraging to note that most of the young people in our study did not present with any levels of worry that would warrant additional treatment or assessment.
Where to look for support
If parents and young people need additional support, a GP can be a good place to start. You can also visit specialist youth mental healthcare services like headspace.
A psychologist or mental health professional can help young people learn how to manage and cope with their worries.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.