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A recent study from the UK and Australia suggests that concerns about climate change are adversely affecting the mental well-being of individuals aged 16 to 24 in the UK. Referred to as “climate distress,” this phenomenon is causing an increase in negative emotions among young adults. Nevertheless, the research also indicates that such distress could motivate young people to engage in positive environmental initiatives.

Climate distress impacts mental health of young adults

In the latest study, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Queensland conducted a survey among young adults in the UK to understand their experiences with “climate distress.” The participants were asked about their mental health, feelings of distress related to climate change, how climate change has affected their lives, and their engagement in environmental actions.

The study, published in PLOS Global Public Health, suggests that individuals with pre-existing mental health issues could be more vulnerable to climate-related distress. Approximately 10% of participants expressed significant distress, prioritizing worries about future climate change impacts over other concerns.

While not all had experienced severe climate events, many still experienced distress due to the decline of pristine locations, insufficient action on climate change, feelings of helplessness, future concerns, and emotions of guilt and shame.

Climate action providing meaning for highly distressed teenagers

Dr. Emma Lawrance from Imperial College led research on climate distress among young individuals in the U.K. The study revealed that highly distressed participants found meaning and satisfaction in climate action. Both positive emotions (hope) and negative ones (anger, frustration) were linked to climate activism.

On the contrary, emotions like shame, guilt, fear, and sadness were associated with reduced initiative. The research underscores the complex nature of climate distress, urging more investigation into why it drives some to act and others to remain inactive.

Amid the worldwide pandemic and minimal climate effects, UK youth express concern about climate change. Emotions related to this issue are found to drive action, affecting communication strategies. The study emphasizes the necessity of climate-sensitive psychological assistance to maintain both young individuals’ climate involvement and mental well-being.