Young people are most vulnerable to the physical and mental health impacts of climate change, which can make caregiving for these individuals more difficult. Here’s what you can do about it.
Climate change impacts both physical and mental health. More extreme hot and cold temperature days, damaging weather events, loss of personal property and shelter, forced climate-related migration, missed days of school and work, and changes in food availability can all contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression. Young people are most vulnerable to the physical and mental health impacts of climate change, which can pose challenges for parents and caregivers.
The mental health impacts of climate change are widely recognized by health professionals. The American Psychological Association describes “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety” as feelings of distress due to the climate crisis. In September 2020, the Lancet, a major medical journal, published a Call to Action to invest in measures that address the growing rates of climate anxiety in young people.
Youth are at increased risk for multiple adverse physical and mental health outcomes of climate change and experience high rates of climate anxiety. A recent study of 10,000 young people found that almost 60% were ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’ about climate change and 68% felt both sad and afraid about climate change.
It’s important to talk to young people about climate change and help them take steps to protect and improve their mental health. Acknowledging their feelings, learning about climate science together, and identifying ways to take action are all ways that caregivers can help children cope.
Many resources are available to help guide your conversations:
- Healthy World, Healthy You: Climate Change and Your Neighborhood: a story and activity book that educates and empower children to take action against climate change.
- Talk Climate: free handouts for caregivers and educators for discussing climate change with children.
- Yale Climate Connections: a helpful guide to climate conversations with children.
Support for Caregivers:
Climate change and its effects can also lead to stress and adverse health outcomes for caregivers. A 2010 study found a doubling in the prevalence of serious mental illness in parents following Hurricane Katrina. Low-income, Black, and single mothers were at a disproportionately high risk of mental illness, reflecting the double burden of stress due to social inequities and surviving a disaster.
Older adults are also particularly vulnerable to the health effects of climate change, including adverse health outcomes due to extreme heat and cold, and increased risk of mental health problems after experiencing natural disasters. Caregivers for older adults might experience additional challenges due to climate change.
If you are a caregiver to older adults or children, climate change presents multiple additional stressors for both you and your loved ones. During this time it’s important for caregivers to take care of their mental health!
Access free online mental health resources:
- NYC Well’s app library provides app and website recommendations based on: price, time commitment, age range, and skills fostered
- National Alliance for Mental Health has resources and tools for caregivers of people with mental illness.
- Caregiver Action Network has a toolbox of resources for caregivers, as well as news and online support groups for caregivers.
- Harvard Public Health: A Zen priest–scientist takes on climate anxiety
- Talk Climate: general handouts
- Clinical Climate Change conference: resource list
- APA: Mental Health and Our Changing Climate – impacts, implications, and guidance