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Climate anxiety in young people at an all-time high

According to a recent study climate anxiety has been especially prevalent in younger generations. Picture: ShiftGraphiX/Pixabay

According to a recent study climate anxiety has been especially prevalent in younger generations. Picture: ShiftGraphiX/Pixabay

Published Nov 22, 2021


Devastating floods, rampaging wildfires, relentless droughts and countless other climate catastrophes are on the cards if we don’t get our act together.

Just thinking about climate change and the possibility of an impending doom would send anyone spiralling into ’Anxiety Central’ but climate anxiety is a very real, very damaging phenomenon.

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Climate or eco-anxiety is described by American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” and by Psychology Today as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.”

According to a recent study conducted by Bath University in collaboration with five universities, climate anxiety has been especially prevalent in younger generations.

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Claiming to be the biggest of its kind, the study recorded responses from 10 000 people aged between 16 and 25, covering 10 countries.

Almost 60% of respondents said that they felt very worried or extremely worried about the future of our planet with 45% admitting that these feelings were so strong that it affected their daily lives. Nearly three-quarters of them said they thought the future was frightening with well over half of respondents saying that they think humanity is doomed.

Two-thirds reported feeling sad, afraid and anxious with many young people feeling fear, anger, despair, grief and shame. But some are hopeful. One 16-year-old said: "It's different for young people - for us, the destruction of the planet is personal."

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Jennifer Uchendu, a climate activist based in Lagos, told reporters at a press conference where the survey results were presented that “as much as we try to make change, I also see government inaction such as trees being cut up on the daily.”

Uchendu recalled her feelings of anger and grief thinking about government-backed deforestation in her country. “Young people are having to suffer the brunt of these issues when crisis or disasters come in” she told reporters. In the survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents from Nigeria said that their feelings about climate change had negatively affected their daily life.

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Closer to home, the Centre for Environmental Rights commissioned an expert report titled The Psychological and Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change in South Africa which was published in August 2021. The report found many South Africans are experiencing stress, anxiety and trauma which all pose a threat to mental health.

Dr Garret Barnwell, a clinical psychologist based in Johannesburg who authored the report, writes: “It is extraordinarily difficult for the majority of South Africans to adapt to the advancing climate shocks.

The same social conditions that make individuals and communities more vulnerable to climate change, are the same that put people at higher risk of mental illness and psychological adversities.”

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