Eco-Anxiety and Young People’s Mental Health
Youth Mental Health Day took place on September 7th and aims to raise awareness around mental health and issues facing young people today. It also exists to remind people that despite these challenges, there is hope and we can all do our part to enable them to live healthy and happy lives.
Research suggests that 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem and 80% of young people with mental health needs say that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened their mental health.
As high as these numbers are, they may not surprise many people reading this; the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, and young people have been taken along on this strange and unpredictable journey with the rest of us.
Let’s not downplay what we’ve all had to cope with – change, uncertainty, fear and loss have been central in most of our lives over the past year or so and we have been forced to adapt and process almost constant changes to our everyday lives. It’s difficult.
Yet for young people, navigating all this has come at a time when they are also developing as a person and trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world around them. It is also important to note that young people from different racialised communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
When writing this blog, I first simply wanted to acknowledge all of this – life can move quickly and we can sometimes forget to say things that matter, out loud. But I also wanted to validate any young person who might be reading this in saying – whatever you are feeling is Ok, whether that’s happy, sad, excited, scared, calm, stressed, anxious or just completely confused. Confusion might be a common feeling for a lot of young people, who might not even know at this point how or whether the pandemic has affected their mental health at all.
That’s why it’s really important to open up these conversations. Giving people the space to explore how they are/might be feeling could be invaluable in helping them process things, rather than neglecting or diminishing them.
How you can help raise mental health awareness
Check in with someone you care about
Sometimes, simply checking in with someone and letting someone know you’re there to listen is the best thing you can do. Even if they aren’t ready to speak to you yet, you never know when they might choose to share something with you. Check out 5 ways you can start the conversation around mental health.
Sometimes you may need to ask more than once. It can be hard for people to talk about their mental health openly and honestly, so if someone says they’re ‘fine’ but you suspect they’re not, ask again, and reassure them that you are there if they need you.
Challenge stigma around mental health
Support friends and family in learning more about mental health, and normalise talking about it.
Get involved with Mind
Volunteer or campaign for better mental health support.
While it might feel daunting at first, remember that discussing mental health openly can help to increase awareness and understanding. It might help you just as much as much as your friend/family member. It can also contribute towards breaking the stigma around mental health.
Who knows, it may even encourage them to reach out to other people around them. Through having these conversations as well as sharing informational websites and videos with friends and family we can all learn to better support ourselves and those around us to live happy, healthy and full lives. Helpful resources can be found at the end of this blog.
When I decided to write something about Youth Mental Health Day, I knew I wanted to also shine a light on an issue concerning young people right now. Following the recent IPCC climate report and when thinking about the young people that I know, it was an obvious choice to write something about climate change and the ever-increasing feelings of overwhelm and worry that people are experiencing in relation to it.
It is suggested that for some people, these ‘worries’ will develop into a psychological disorder called ‘eco-anxiety’. While of course this can affect adults too, unsurprisingly a survey conducted in 2020 suggested that levels of eco-anxiety were higher in young people than the general population and ‘more than half of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England are seeing patients distressed about the state of the environment.’
What I think these findings suggest is that while of course more needs to be done to combat the climate crisis itself, a lot more also needs to be done to support everyone, but especially young people, through it.
How to combat eco-anxiety:
Have open conversations about environmental issues
It can help to just talk to someone about how you’re feeling, and what’s going on in the world. Knowing other people feel the same can help you feel less alone in your anxiety.
Set aside ‘worry time’
Worry time is a helpful concept for people who are regularly stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. Set aside fifteen minutes of time where you allow yourself to read the news, digest what is happening, and worry about things that are distressing you. Once those fifteen minutes are up, you finish worrying, and move on with your day.
While it can be easier said than done to just stop worrying, this can really make a difference to a person’s overall wellbeing – it’s better to worry for fifteen minutes than all day.
Take practical steps to make real, positive change
Remember that you have the ability to make positive change in your life and the world. Taking practical steps to combat eco-anxiety like recycling, using less plastic, and conserving water can help you feel like you’re doing your part.
Acknowledge that more needs to be done
While we should all take steps to help the environment, it’s worth keeping in mind that governments and private businesses should shoulder the vast majority of the responsibility.
Focus on good news
Spreading good news as well to support those feeling utterly overwhelmed to feel more optimistic. The Happy News is a great resource celebrating inspiring, positive stories.
It goes without saying that young people have always faced challenges. However, young people today are coping with a lot of very fast-paced change and I think that deserves some acknowledgement.
Further helpful resources and websites are:
By Molly Philips, Mental Health Advisor
Posted on: 15th September 2021