Young people are increasingly committed to caring for the environment, because of a growing awareness of climate change as a global environmental issue that leads to extreme weather extremities and increased health risks; impacting societies, economies and ecosystems. Many young people throughout the world identify climate change as a key issue that calls for action.
For most young people, the awareness and concern about the impact of climate change is a healthy response to a serious problem and doesn’t impact their mental health. This awareness can motivate young people to be actively involved in positive change. Examples of young people’s contribution to positive change include attending public marches, raising awareness through conversations, and reducing their ‘carbon footprint’ through changes in lifestyle.
‘Climate anxiety’ and ‘eco-anxiety’ are terms being used to describe feelings of helplessness, stress, worry and frustration about the effects of climate change. There is growing research in this area to understand how concerns about climate change can significantly interfere with some people’s daily lives. Young people may experience ‘climate anxiety’ because they are aware that it is their generation and future generations that will be most affected by climate change. They can feel a sense of urgency to create immediate change and make a difference to future generations.
Family and friends can play a valuable role in supporting young people to understand their experience, find ways of managing the impacts of anxiety and experience resilience.
Anxiety about climate change: common signs
Anxiety about climate change may affect young people in the following ways:
- hopelessness about their own future and the future of the planet
- worry about the impact of climate change on the next generation
- anger that not enough is being done to create positive change
- grief about the loss of nature and eco systems
- intrusive thoughts
- difficulty sleeping
- frustration with others who don’t share the same level of concern
- overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge
- guilt about not doing enough to make a difference
- lethargy without optimism or energy to be proactive
- Start the conversation with your young person to understand their worries in relation to climate change and the impact it may be having on their mental health. Even if you have differing opinions about climate change, it is important to listen deeply with empathy for your young person and focus on any shared views.
- Acknowledge their feelings; taking care not to minimise the seriousness of the issues for them or jump too quickly to solutions.
- Brainstorm realistic changes that you can do collectively as a household.
- Give reassurance that they are not alone and that many people share their concerns and are working toward creative and sustainable solutions.
- Encourage them to find a balance between the serious stuff in life and fun.
- Encourage taking a break from any social media channels that particularly trigger anxiety.
- Suggest they read ‘What I can do to manage anxiety’ for practical tips on managing the impacts of anxiety.
- Together explore websites and resources, online groups or local community action groups that support young people’s participation.
- Express respect and admiration for their commitment and that their care for the environment is valued.
- Encourage the setting of realistic goals and don’t underestimate their contribution to social action that is making a difference to the environment and future.
- Share the good news stories of what has been achieved throughout history because of collective effort and action i.e. abolition of slavery, apartheid and the contemporary positive examples of empowerment and action.
It’s important to look after yourself when supporting a young person who is experiencing anxiety. Their concerns may tap into your own anxiety or fear about climate change. It is helpful to connect with them; being mindful of keeping your anxiety or fear in check.
Talk to other family members and friends and share positive approaches for supporting young people who are experiencing anxiety in relation to climate change.
Reassure yourself that you don’t have to be an expert on climate change or anxiety. It can relieve some pressure to be ‘all things’ to the young person.
See the tips for self-care that will help sustain you as well as model health and balance for your young person.
If you have concerns that the impact of climate change on your young person is interfering with their every-day life, you may be wondering if they need extra support. Signs that they may not be managing can include withdrawal from friends and usual activities, pre-occupied thinking or obsessive behaviour, panic attacks, low mood, changes in sleeping or eating, low motivation, increased alcohol and other drug use.
If you notice some of these changes, it’s important to ‘check in’ and let them know that you understand that this is a significant issue weighing heavily on them. Let them know that you love them and that you’re available if they want to talk to you.
It is affirming for your young person to know that you believe they have the resources and capabilities to manage challenging situations in life, but that it’s OK for them to ask for support including professional support.
If they need extra support, you can:
- validate their experience and normalise the seeking of extra support
- problem solve together in a ‘you and me vs the problem’ way
- together explore the options for your young person accessing support
- set goals together by breaking things down into manageable chunks.
Further help and support
If you or your young person need further support, you can:
Visit eheadspace (online and phone support)
Contact your nearest headspace centre
Talk to your GP about options for support or counselling
Other useful resources
Parentline is a confidential and free telephone counselling and advice service.
Raising Children Network is an online resource for parents and carers filled with tips and tools for raising both young people and children.
ReachOut has resources to help under 25s and their parents through tough times.
eheadspace Climate Change Spaces
headspace has a number of interactive tools that can help young people and their family and friends reflect on their needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Australian Psychological Society resource: Raising children to thrive in a climate changed world
CSIRO resource: Climate change in Australia
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 25 October 2021