BLOG: How climate action supports young people’s mental health

Headshot of blog author, Andy BellA guest blog by Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health, on the link between climate change and young people’s mental health.

“Young people do not need convincing about the threat posed by climate change.” Today’s report by Groundwork sets out clearly just how passionate young people feel about the climate emergency, how anxious it makes many, and what positive changes they’d like to see and be a part of.

Climate change and mental health have often appeared next to one another on surveys of what young people are worried about. Both are causes of significant and rising anxiety: both because they are becoming bigger problems and because young people’s knowledge about them is greater than ever.

Years of rising awareness about mental health have been accompanied by a gradual (and more recently, sharp) decline in young people’s wellbeing. Surveys have shown that one young person in six now experiences poor mental health, compared with one in ten in 2004. This cannot be explained away simply by assuming it’s due solely to people knowing more about mental health and being more open about how they are feeling. Over the last two years in particular, this deterioration has been marked and is already leading to a substantial increase in the numbers of young people seeking support for their mental health from the NHS.

Both climate change and poor mental health are greater risks to people with the least resources and power. Mental health inequalities are social and economic inequalities. Young people who come from less affluent families and neighbourhoods, and those who experience bullying, discrimination, violence and oppression are markedly more likely than most to have poor mental health. The risk and protective factors for our mental health are due not to our character or personality but to our environment and life experience.

Mental health is made in communities. As is climate resilience.

Poor mental health has direct and unavoidable links with climate change. There is persuasive evidence that climate-related disasters, particularly flooding, harm mental health, both immediately and long-term. And with major climate events becoming more common, this risk is now a much greater threat to our mental health than before.

It’s also increasingly clear that good mental health is linked to climate resilience. Access to green spaces and interacting with nature have been shown to benefit our mental health. Climate resilient communities and neighbourhoods, with high levels of participation and community activity, are more likely also to be mentally healthy.

Mental health is made in communities. As is climate resilience. Community gardens and food growing initiatives, action and activism to make neighbourhoods greener and safer, and protecting the environment from harm, are all as likely to improve mental health as they are to promote physical safety from the rising threat posed by global heating.

Young people know that we cannot go on as we are. We cannot ignore rising levels of mental ill health any more than rising temperatures and sea levels, racial injustice and poverty. Finding solutions means finding common ground: uniting around action that boosts sustainability, equality and social justice, with young people in the lead and old divisions set aside for this urgent common purpose.

This blog was produced in response to Groundwork’s new report, Youth in a Changing Climate.