The Climate Crisis is Causing a Mental Health Crisis in Our Youth: Help Us Fight It
The climate crisis and the devastating disasters it is causing make headlines daily. But there’s another harrowing effect of climate change, one particularly cruel to young people, that’s been all but overlooked: a mental health crisis resulting in widespread feelings of anxiety, despair and hopelessness.
The good news is a growing number of mental health, climate and education experts worldwide are rallying together in response. Small Change Fund is excited to partner with one of this field’s most celebrated and innovative leaders, author and Stanford researcher Dr. Britt Wray.
Together we are bringing light to this emerging crisis alongside the education, tools, stories, community, and actions it urgently needs. Your donation will help us help others learn to cope and act in the service of climate resilience, both physical and psychological, particularly as it benefits youth.
Climate anxiety. Ecological grief. Solastalgia. Even five years ago, most people would never have heard of these terms, and many still haven’t. The mental health crisis within the climate crisis is a growing yet overlooked phenomenon, one whose reach and severity may cause far more psychological impairment than the visible impacts of climate change.
Tackling this crisis has become the mission of Dr. Britt Wray.
A Toronto-born author and researcher, Britt is currently the Director of CIRCLE at Stanford Psychiatry, a research and action initiative focused on community-minded interventions for resilience, climate leadership, and emotional wellbeing in the Stanford School of Medicine. Her research has been showcased in the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Wired, Globe & Mail, BBC and on the stages of TED Talks and the World Economic Forum. Her books include the Governor General’s Literary Award-finalist Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis, which has been acclaimed by fellow authors Naomi Klein and Dr. Gabor Mate, and “Don’t Look Up” Writer-Director Adam McKay.
A generation struggling for hope.
In 2021, Britt co-authored a pioneering study on the psychological impacts of climate change, surveying 10,000 16-25 year olds in 10 countries. Among its most concerning findings were:
● 45% of respondents reported climate change negatively affects their daily life and functioning
● 75% said “the future is frightening”
● More than 50% said “the things I most value in life will be destroyed”
● 39% reported that climate change makes them hesitant to have their own children
But climate distress is not just a young person’s concern. It affects anyone who has a strong sense of ‘environmental identity’ — or connection with the more-than-human world — and those who understand that their health is tied up with the health of the environment. Particularly vulnerable groups include farmers, women, Indigenous communities, climate scientists, climate activists, people with pre-existing mental health challenges, and communities that are facing first-hand environmental injustices and climate disasters. It can look like shock, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, strained relationships, substance abuse, panic attacks, eating disorders, and even suicidality.
A global community responds.
Experts around the world from climate science, mental health, planetary health, education, and policy fields are now rallying to intervene in the crisis. And Britt’s team is at the forefront. In the year ahead, they’re expanding to offer a new set of programs, including:
● Offering climate mental health webinars, online workshops, and toolkits to educators and community leaders who work with youth and teens
● Creating and disseminating pedagogical tools for environmental educators to use in their classrooms where climate-distressed youth need support
● Developing and testing a climate communications intervention that addresses climate anxiety for the BC Ministry of Health
● Publishing a website that will serve as a resource hub and complement our existing Substack Gen Dread newsletter
Great work is being done, but much more needs to be funded, streamlined, and supported. Small Change Fund is thrilled to partner on and support Britt and her team’s groundbreaking work — especially at this early stage, where hope is strongest — as they reveal, chart, and intervene in this entirely new and alarming frontier of the climate crisis.