Eco-Anxiety is on the Rise Among Youth

A group of youth stand together with signs about climate change

The truth of climate change is something many people are working to accept. But for some, the myriad global environmental crises we face feel all too real. While recognizing the reality of climate change is necessary, a loss of hope or a fixation on environmental doom are not healthy. Unfortunately, chronic stress and anxiety related to climate change, known as eco-anxiety, is on the rise. In the past few years, the American Psychiatric Association has begun to identify climate change as an important area linked to our collective mental health. Although people of all ages experience eco-anxiety, it is especially prevalent among youth.

A young person sits looking solemn in long grass

Eco-anxiety can manifest in many ways including fear of an impending environmental catastrophe, obsessive observation of environmental changes, or a more generalized lack of hope when thinking about the future. Many would-be parents experience eco-anxiety when deciding whether to bring more human lives into the world and many young people can’t help but feel despair when thinking about their own generation’s collective future. For adults talking to kids about climate change, it’s important to be honest and recognize that environmental destruction is scary. Minimizing real issues like harm to vulnerable human and non-human communities isn’t a helpful way to make kids feel better. Instead, we need to acknowledge the realities of climate change with young people but also focus on hope for the future and the steps we can take to create a better and safer world.

Two young kids play in a creek together

Younger generations are often more well-informed on issues of environment and climate than their parents. This knowledge is great news in many respects, but environmental educators, teachers, parents, and all forms of caregivers for youth also need to slow down and talk to kids about the complicated emotions of facing down a global crisis. We want youth to get fired up about creating change and take action for a brighter future, not get bogged down in the hopeless tragedy of habitat loss and sea level rise.

A man and child embrace under a grove of trees

The reality is that previous generations have led us down a path towards climate crisis and future generations will have to deal with the consequences of those decisions in ways we can currently only imagine. That’s a harsh truth that we can’t avoid. However, adults have a responsibility to equip young people not only with the scientific information they need to protect their communities, but also with the tools to care for themselves and protect their mental health along the way. Learning more about eco-anxiety and opening up honest conversations with the young people around us about their feelings is a good first step in accepting that  responsibility.