Orygen and Mission Australia are calling for urgent action to address the impact of climate change concerns on the mental health of young people in Australia, following new research showing strong links between the two. 

The 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey shows 1 in 4 (26%) young people in Australia are ‘very’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about climate change, and nearly 2 in 5 (38%) of those respondents also experienced high psychological distress. 

The survey of 18,800 people aged 15 to 19 showed that young people who reported being ‘very concerned’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about climate change were more likely to report: 

  • high levels of concern about coping with stress 
  • their mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ 
  • higher psychological distress
  • low subjective wellbeing
  • feeling more negative about the future

The 2022 Youth Survey found that half of respondents (51%) identified ‘the environment’ as one of the most important issues in Australia today. Some young people are more worried about climate change such as those who identified as female or gender diverse, and those experiencing financial difficulties.  

In-depth statistical modelling shows that the link between climate concern and psychological distress as well as the negative future outlook were genuine and not impacted by common risk factors. This link was also stronger among young people who identified as gender diverse, Indigenous, or those living in regional/remote areas. 

Orygen and Mission Australia say the results warrant an urgent response, recommending four key actions to address the issue: 

  1. Ensuring future government youth and mental health strategies include actions that address the relationship between climate change and mental health
  2. Partnering with young people when designing actions to mitigate climate related mental health impacts
  3. Providing training to professionals working with young people to identify and manage climate-related stress
  4. Funding targeted research focused on the impacts of climate change on youth mental health

“The impact of climate change on mental health is an emerging, but significant issue that is likely to grow as climate change becomes more severe,” said Orygen Senior Biostatistician and Environmental Epidemiologist Dr Caroline Gao, who co-authored the report with colleagues from Orygen, University of Melbourne and Mission Australia. 

The report suggests that while concerns about climate change may contribute to a young person’s psychological distress, it is also possible that pre-existing psychological distress increases the likelihood of worry and concerns, including about climate change. 

“We believe urgent action is required to better support young people. We want to reduce the impact of climate change on psychological distress, foster hope and avoid despair, while still motivating positive climate actions.” 

Dr Gao added, “Young people are particularly vulnerable to mental ill-health; the onset of almost half of all mental health disorders occurs before the age of 18. With the extreme climate occurrences that have occurred in Australia over the last three years, it is likely that climate concerns are contributing to the exacerbation of mental ill-health for some of our young people.” 

Mission Australia’s Executive of Practice, Evidence and Impact Marion Bennett agrees, adding: “Young people in Australia are telling us that the threat of climate change and the increasing regularity and severity of extreme weather is harming their mental health and wellbeing.  

“We can see in this report that young people who experienced financial difficulties in the past year are particularly concerned about climate change, which aligns with what Mission Australia frontline staff see among some vulnerable young people that we support through our community services and housing. 

“Young people overwhelmingly want action on climate change, and Australia must act to reduce the harm young people are experiencing. 

“We urge governments to update their youth and mental health strategies so there is increased access for all young people in Australia to mental health services, to raise awareness and to upskill professionals in the realm of climate-related distress. It’s also important that governments partner with young people to co-design solutions that will address their climate-related mental health concerns.” 

Dr Gao added, “We are currently conducting a programme of research with our partner organisations to support a better understanding of the impact of climate change on young people’s mental health as well as evidence-based resources for professionals working with young people.”

Climate concerns and young people’s mental health findings from the 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey

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