Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Children and Youth Report 2023
Building on the success of Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Inequities, and Responses, ecoAmerica collaborated with the American Psychological Association to bring forth the next edition, Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Children and Youth Report.
The Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Children and Youth report chronicles the effects of climate change on children’s mental health, the structural inequities that lead to some populations bearing greater impacts, and solutions to support the mental health of children and youth on the individual and community level. Watch the launch webinar to hear the major findings of this report from the authors and to preview the action steps for medical professionals, community and elected leaders, children and youth advocates, teachers, environmentalists, philanthropists, and the public.
The impacts of climate change intersect with and compound other factors that threaten youth mental health, which is already precarious, according to Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Children and Youth Report. These factors include child development, parental health, rates of depression and suicide, anxiety, racism, poverty, housing security, adequate nutrition, and access to medical care.
The acute impacts of climate change, such as weather disasters, can cause trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in the short term, and many longer-term mental health challenges in the absence of proper interventions, the report says. Children are more vulnerable because of their dependence on parents and other caregivers for support.
“If our responsibility to ensure a safe climate and thriving future for our children and future generations was not clear enough, this report brings it into vivid relief. My hope is for anyone caring for children — especially policymakers — to join me in following its guidance,” said Meighen Speiser, executive director of ecoAmerica and a co-author of the report.
Research shows that the effect of extreme weather events resulting from climate change can interrupt normal fetal development and lead to a greater risk of anxiety or depressive disorder, ADHD, educational deficits, and lower levels of self-control, as well as psychiatric disorders later in life. The list of possible climate change-related mental health struggles expands as children get older, according to the report. And certain populations of children are even more vulnerable due to poverty, racism, gender, disability, and other factors.
Youth are increasingly feeling frustrated and betrayed by poor governmental response to climate change, the report notes. However, despite rampant climate anxiety, many are motivated to be a part of climate solutions as evidenced by a recent surge in marches and protests. This new report builds on the prior Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Inequities, and Responses report, also developed by ecoAmerica and APA.
Solutions to support children and youth mental health include:
- systems-level solutions to tackle climate change at its root;
- community solutions to increase resilience, meet children’s basic needs, and increase access to mental health care;
- school-based support and hands-on opportunities to act;
- screenings by health care professionals to identify climate-related distress and treatment interventions, and;
- parental support, to teach their children about climate change, manage their fears, find hope, take age-appropriate action, and nurture their capacity for resilience.
“Since the publication of the 2021 report, concerns about the mental health impacts of climate change have grown among scientists, health professionals, policymakers and the public, and the effects on children and youth are more pronounced,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “Psychology, as the science of behavior, will be pivotal to making the wholesale changes that are imperative to slow and, we hope, stop its advance.”