Environmental crises and young people’s mental health

IF Student Volunteer, Charlotte Foster, highlights the effects that multiple environmental crises are having on young people’s mental health and calls for the redoubling of our commitment to reducing the impacts of humans on the environment.

We know that we are facing growing environmental crises

It is easy to notice the severe nature of the world’s climate at this point in time. Temperatures are rising with scientists predicting that 2024 will become the world’s hottest year yet. Should the global temperature increase by 1.5 degree Celsius or more, severe environmental damage will ensue. According to NASA, sea levels will rise causing cities to flood, extreme weather events will become more commonplace and portable water will become less available.

The climate crisis is harming mental health

There is a clear link between the mental health of the younger generation and climate change. Firstly, there is a growing percentage of the younger generation who consider themselves to be affected by eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is the chronic fear of environmental doom and a concern for what will come of this world without substantial governmental intervention.

While eco-anxiety concerns all ages, the impacts are more severe on those experiencing climate impacts first-hand and those who have the most to lose in the face of environmental catastrophe. Considering that the younger generation will be the most affected by the climate situation in coming years, it is no wonder that 70% of young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis. While eco-anxiety is not considered a diagnosable condition, mental health experts recognise that the worsening climate situation can trigger a psychological response.

Young people are already facing a mental health crisis

Additionally, there are currently around one million young people (these being teenagers from the age of 13 – 19) who are prescribed antidepressants. This is around 37% of the young people population in the UK. Many people are aware of common side effects which can be caused through the use of antidepressants, one of which being dehydration. What is less commonly recognised however, is the increased threat global warming poses for young people taking antidepressants. Hydration, staying in the shade and not exerting yourself should be practised even more when you are a young person on antidepressants, more so given the increasing global temperatures. Given the fact young people are more likely to be described antidepressants, as well as the increased potential to experience a psychological response due to eco-anxiety alone, it is even more important that we are aware of the physical impacts that global warming has on the younger generation.

Some relief? Government action on climate change

Despite the fears of a worsening world climate, there is much to be celebrated from the emergence and implementation of climate policies. Most notably, the Canadian Government has recently passed an important intergenerational equity bill, “Bill S-5”, which recognises “every individual in Canada has the right to a healthy environment … considering relevant factors including principles of environmental justice and intergenerational equity”. This bill is one of the responses to the intense wildfires currently blazing across Canada. As with everything related to climate change, the effects of these wildfires are not only being felt in Canada, but the impact is also being felt hundreds of miles away, such as in the US states of Georgia and New York. The smoke caused by these wildfires are polluting air quality, making it hazardous for millions. The Canadian Minister of Environment has two years in which to develop an implementation framework which dictates how the right to a healthy environment is to be considered in the administration of this act. As Generation Squeeze, a sister organisation to IF points out, one of the most crucial ways in which the Canadian government can ensure the generational fairness they refer to is by appointing a person of generational fairness to help guide these critical implementation details.

The UK government must do more to protect young people from the dual climate and mental health crises

Here at the Intergenerational Foundation, this recommendation is greatly supported. Climate change is arguably one of the most concerning legacies to be left to future generations. In order to implement policies which will in fact serve the future, younger, environmentally conscious politicians must be appointed. At this point in time, with the clock ticking, it is simply not enough for politicians to be turning their attention to climate change issues, while it is of course encouraged. Rather, forward-thinking, bold policymakers must be elected who look to the long term, as well as consider, and implement, the demands of younger generations.

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