Young People and Eco Anxiety: UK Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Natasha Pavey
May 13, 2021

“77% of students say that thinking about climate change makes them anxious and in the UK, as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition” according to research by the charity Global Action Plan in 2020 [1]. Young people nowadays can’t escape the facts and the figures surrounding climate change. With just a click of a button we’re bombarded with the devastation of flash floods, wildfires and droughts. We’re the ones at the environmental protests, campaigning against deforestation and the mass extinction of species. We’re the one’s fighting for our future whilst simultaneously drowning in algebra, our best friend’s relationship drama, and the belief that it could all be too late. Climate change is something that's going to affect us in OUR lifetimes. Yes, US not the crusty old men in power who are deciding our futures for us, futures that they won’t even be around for. No wonder we're riddled with grief and anxiety!!!

My name is Natasha (she/her), I’m 19 and I, like many young people, experience eco anxiety. Coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2005, ‘eco-anxiety’ is the most frequently used term in literature and research to describe heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system [2]. A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association links the impact of climate change to mental health and references ‘eco-anxiety’ as "a chronic fear of environmental doom” [3].

To put it plainly, I constantly feel scared in the face of the climate crisis: scared for my planet and scared for my life. I’m constantly filled with a dread fuelled by doom scrolling and the belief that adults and adults in power do not care. Sometimes it’s hard not to be consumed by powerlessness. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel helpless. Sometimes it's hard not to envision the human race hurtling towards the edge of a cliff and there’s little I can do to stop it. My youngest brother is 4 years old and if scientific reports and analytical papers are anything to go by, his future is a climate change reality. 

The Teach the Future team is made up of young people from across the UK, all concerned by the climate crisis and nervous for what the future may hold. We need to be learning about the climate crisis in school. Learning how to combat it and being empowered to create change from a young age. In this safe space, we can learn about the anxiety and the grief that comes with the climate crisis instead of facing it alone in the deep dark depths of the internet at 2am on our phones with nothing but a soft toy and an empty packet of Oreos to comfort us. As Clover Hogan, 21 year old climate activist and researcher on eco-anxiety puts it, we need to be taught to ‘step up rather than shut down….convert this fear into action and know what to do when faced by this fear.’ [4]

Join us this Mental Health Awareness week, as we unite behind the theme of nature, by sharing and signing our petition to get climate education to the top of the curriculum in UK schools. Let’s protect and empower the next generation with climate education. Find our petition here, and receive updates on our campaign by signing up to our mailing list here

Also, if you want to know more about Mental Health Awareness Week visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website here to find resources and more information.