Climate Change is Impacting Youth Mental Health

Do you find yourself or the youth in your life feeling anxious or depressed over the idea of climate change? A new study shows this is a problem sweeping Oregon and beyond. The Oregon Health Authority just released a report, Climate Change and Youth Mental Health in Oregon, documenting the impacts of climate change on the mental health of youth (ages 15-25). This study was completed under the direction of Governor Brown’s Executive Order 20-04, also known as the Oregon Climate Action Plan.

The study, one of the largest in the nation to date, documents a growing youth mental health crisis in Oregon. Climate stressors, including climate anxiety, are disproportionately affecting the well-being of our youth. Highlights from the study’s findings include: 

  • ​​Climate change is harming youth mental health when directly impacted by disasters such as wildfires, extreme heat waves, and severe weather events disrupting normal life and separating people from communities.
  • 59% of youth surveyed reported feeling very worried about climate change, while 84% were moderately worried.
  • Youth reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an increase of 40% amongst high school students in the last decade.
  • Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%. Oregon continues to experience a higher youth suicide rate than the national average.

sign at youth climate march “Growing up comes with enough changes already, and the anxiety of climate change makes it so much worse. Our teen years should be hard, but they should also be hopeful, and as climate crises challenge us and our communities every year, it’s hard to be feel confident about even the most basic part of our futures. I wonder how the younger generations will be healthy enough to fight and solve climate change when they are breaking from the pressure of it now.” – Pheobe Wood, Hood River High School

 

The main pathways this anxiety is caused is through:

  • Increased extreme weather events and climate-related disasters;  
  • Chronic climate stressors, such as water and food insecurity; and  
  • Increased awareness of climate change, leading to climate anxiety. 

Perhaps most importantly, the study illustrates the need to center our future generations when developing climate protection policies and the need for adults to step up to address the climate crisis. Youth were engaged throughout the study to provide input, including focus groups, key informant interviews, and learnings from a community-based project. Decision-makers and policy makers can share power with youth in decisions about climate and mental health policy and solutions to increase youth’s sense of hope, belonging and agency.

A press conference with key youth interviews was held on Tuesday, June 14th. OEC worked extensively with OHA and other partners like Rogue Climate and Renew Oregon to outreach to and organize the youth voices that appeared in the press release and press conference. 

“I don’t understand why climate change is not in the forefront of every policy maker’s mind. The fact that we’re able to think about money every time we make a decision, but not climate change is completely absurd. We all see what needs to happen, why don’t they? To be honest, I’m starting to lose faith in policy makers and politicians. I wish that they would wake up and start putting our planet ahead of money.” – Anya Moore, 17, Ashland High School

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