How climate change can affect children's mental health

The sisters hold hands and watch a melting glacier.According to Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humanity has only a few years left to prevent environmental catastrophe. If we fail, natural disasters are likely to become more frequent, food may become rarer and millions of people could be displaced from their homes. Many people around the world are already facing these consequences.

Much of the burden of climate change falls on today's children and adolescents. It is they who must survive in this warmer, harder world. This threat has caused widespread anxiety among many young people today – perhaps more than many adults realize.

However, not everything is lost. Parents, educators, and other concerned adults can help address this crisis. They can monitor for possible mental health problems caused by environmental factors. They can provide emotional support. They can help children develop emotionally healthy coping strategies. When climate change causes mental health problems in children, adult support can be invaluable.

Mental health and the environment

Children and adolescents, with their developing organs and brains, may be more vulnerable to the effects of global warming than adults. These include:

  • The spread of infections. As mosquitoes and other animals are spreading to new areas, diseases such as the Zika virus can bloom. Zika virus can cause mental disabilities in children in the womb.
  • Exposure to air pollution. Rising temperatures allow fossil fuel pollutants to form faster. Pollution, in turn, can lead to cognitive disorders and behavioral issues.
  • Natural Disaster. Children caught in hurricanes or forest fires are particularly likely to develop mental health concerns. One study found that half of preschoolers displaced by Hurricane Katrina meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Heat itself can affect mental health. Research shows that as temperatures rise, people have more emotional arousal. They are more likely to have negative thoughts and aggressive impulses. Young people who already have mental health problems may aggravate their symptoms.

Heat can also reduce people's ability to cope with intense emotions. Research shows that as temperatures rise, our cognitive function may decrease, making us less able to solve problems without violence. Some people may resort to aggression or substance abuse to address the discomfort. Rising temperatures have also been linked to higher suicide rates.

How does eco-concern manifest in children

Eco stress or climate stress is a serious and persistent discomfort for global warming. Research shows that climate worries are quite common among children. One study tested 600 Australian children aged 10-14 years. Among the respondents:

  • 43% were concerned about air and water pollution.
  • 52% were concerned about whether they would have enough water in the future.
  • 25% worried that the world would end before they grew up.

Similar numbers have been found in other studies.

If these fears are left to simmer without relief, they can lead to chronic stress. Some children may have to check for news or weather reports. Others may develop a perfect attitude towards water recycling and conservation. They may feel excessive guilt over uncontrolled circumstances.

A child could also go to the other end, developing a sense of hopelessness. Some children might feel that the end of the world is inevitable. They may lose motivation to do well in school or pursue a hobby, believing that their effort will not matter in the long run. Grief over a lost future could overwhelm any attachment to the present.

How to talk to kids about climate change

Many adults find it difficult to discuss global warming with children. Climate change is an upset dilemma with no easy answers. However, children are already receiving information (and misinformation) about climate change from their friends, the Internet and elsewhere. It is often better for children to obtain clear information from a reliable source than to try and sift the data themselves.

As an adult, you may be tempted to downplay the situation to ease a child's fears. This strategy can be easily reversed. The child may misinterpret your attitude as apathy and conclude that nothing is done about the problem. They may develop dissatisfaction, believing that adults are not interested in the kind of environment that leaves the next generation.

At the same time, it is also important to avoid overwhelming negativity in the child. It can help show children examples of activists and scientists working to solve the problem. Role models can assure children that they will not face this crisis on their own. Emphasize that there is hope for the future.

Tackling the stress of climate change

When faced with an environmental crisis, many people do not know how to deal with it. Andrea Bell, LCSW, SEP, from Long Beach, CA, says: "When you are overwhelmed by terrible news, such as massive disappearances of loved ones or destruction of lifelong natural systems … it is perfectly normal to feel stress and despair, anger and crash. However, we must not act violently or remain stuck in passive stress. We must all mobilize to help regenerate our ecosystems. the planet also stops adhesion and helps the person start to feel better.It's a little persistent optimism: "I'm still here and I can do something."

Dealing with a head issue is sometimes called a word troubleshooting. It is about taking concrete steps to resolve or mitigate a problem. You can help your child with troubleshooting problems by:

  • Teaching your child how to compost, recycle, etc.
  • Planting a garden for the nutrition of bees and other pollinators.
  • Volunteering in conservation work as a family.
  • Participate in a fight or march of the activist

Another strategy is called meaning-based confrontation. Its purpose is to help people maintain a sense of purpose and hope in difficult situations. Examples of meaning-based strategies include:

  • Positive review: reminding a child of the victories in the fight against climate change, such as the increasing use of solar energy.
  • Creating a sense of community: showing a child that many people and organizations work hard to combat climate change.
  • Concerning spiritual beliefs or religious traditions for guidance.

Research shows that children and adolescents with climate anxiety respond particularly well to meaning-focused strategies. Since most young people cannot drive, work or vote, their ability to make immediate changes is limited. In addition, climate change is too big to be resolved quickly. Meaningful strategies can help children maintain optimism and avoid emotional exaggeration.

A child can benefit from counseling if the stress of stress has affected their quality of life. A child counselor can work with the child individually to treat related mental health problems, such as depression. A family therapist can work with the whole family to cope with stress. Visiting a school counselor can also be beneficial if a child's academic performance has declined.

Regardless of the child's needs, there is a mental health professional who can help them. You can find a consultant near you through the GoodTherapy directory.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Clayton, S., Manning, C., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, impacts and guidance [PDF]. Retrieved from
  2. Ojala, M. (2013). Addressing climate change among adolescents: Implications for subjective well-being and environmental commitment. Sustainability, 5(5), 2191-2209. Retrieved from
  3. Salas, R.N., Jacobs, W. & Perera, F. (2019, May 30). The case of Juliana v. United States: Children and health burdens from climate change. The New England Journal of Medicine, 380(1), 2085-2087. Retrieved from
  4. Tucci, J., Mitchell, J., & Goddard, C. (2007). Children's fears, hopes and heroes [PDF]. Retrieved from

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