The ongoing climate crisis has had massive negative effects on children’s mental health, and thanks to new research, we now know more about the ecological grief children and youth are facing. By surveying more than 1,000 young Canadians, the researchers shed light on climate-related depression and anxiety across the country.
Startlingly, they found that nearly half of all young Canadians think humanity is doomed.
The research was led by Lindsay Galway, a Canada Research Chair in Social-Ecological Health and associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University’s Thunder Bay campus, and Ellen Field, an assistant professor in Education at Lakehead Orillia. Their results were published in ScienceDirect.
Climate-related anxiety is rampant
Climate change is one of the most pressing concerns in today’s society, with ramifications ranging from extreme weather events to disruptions in natural ecosystems and more. Most Canadians agree that we need to do something about the climate crisis — yet at the same time, many Canadians are currently dealing with climate-related mental health issues.
To learn more about how youth in particular are coping with climate change, the researchers behind the study carried out a survey of 1,000 Canadians aged 16 to 25 from across the country. This study was a Canadian-specific followup to 2021 research led by Caroline Hickman of the University of Bath, who carried out a similar survey for youth in other countries.
Study participants were asked about their emotions towards the climate, their perspectives on the future due to climate change, their feelings about governmental responses, and their perspectives on climate-related education, among other topics. Following the survey, the researchers gathered responses and weighted them based on age, gender, and region.
Unfortunately, the results of their survey are worrying. More than three quarters of Canadian youth said that climate change impacts their overall mental health, while 73% of survey respondents reported feeling frightened about the future.
At the same time, nearly half of all respondents said that they believe humanity is doomed. As a result of this, 39% of survey participants were hesitant about having children.
A clear trend that emerged in the survey responses was the fact that many youth feel let down by government responses to climate change. In particular, 71% of respondents felt angry about the Canadian government’s climate policies and actions, while 69% felt abandoned. Another 60% also believed that the Canadian education system should have a stronger focus on climate change.
“This research shows that inaction at the systemic and structural levels shapes the experiences of climate emotions and anxiety among young people across Canada,” Galway said in a press release.
“To address difficult climate emotions, there needs to be strong leadership as well as supports and programs put in place to enable young people to cope with climate-related distress, foster emotional resiliency, and prevent harm.”
Canadian youth still have hope
While these results may seem bleak, Canadian youth still have hope. In all, 71% of survey respondents said that they still believe that we can do something about climate change if we work together, and half of all Canadian youth surveyed believe that they can personally contribute.
Tackling climate change will require enormous amounts of global, coordinated effort — but today’s youth are ready to lead this cause.
“[T]o protect the mental and emotional health of young people, transformative climate action is needed,” Galway said.
Field added, “This really is an all-hands-on-deck moment for adults and a time for intergenerational work.”