The Burden of Climate Change
Children and youth are disproportionally impacted by the mental health impacts of climate change. Environmentally-related anxiety, distress, grief, and feelings of impending doom are increasingly common amongst youth and children, particularly those who have lived through extreme weather events. Research suggests that youth are at increased risk of long-term trauma, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to extreme weather events.
Some terms that are increasingly being used by mental health professionals include Climate Trauma, Ecoanxiety, Ecogrief, and Solastalgia (stress produced by environmental changes to one’s home environment).
The mental health consequences of climate change on children and youth range from anxiety, depression and phobias, to substance misuse, attachment and sleep disorders, to impacts on cognition and learning, as well as behavioural issues. Studies have shown that time spent in green spaces can alleviate some of these symptoms, particularly those triggered by a fear of loss or degradation of the natural world. Protected areas like Ontario’s Greenbelt provide critical space for youth to connect with nature, learn about natural systems and take action as stewards on a number of en- vironmental restoration projects. The ability to take meaningful environmental action is paramount for youth in overcoming environmentally-related mental health conditions.
A study of the mental health effects of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire found increased suicidal thinking, depression, and tobacco consumption amongst youth exposed to the wild fire compared with youth surveyed in Red Deer who were unexposed to the fires.
Into the Greenbelt is a project of the Greenbelt Foundation, in partnership with Park People, that brings individuals from underserved communities, including inner-city youth, into Ontario’s Greenbelt for fun, educational day trips.
Nature Guardians Youth Program and Ontario Nature Youth Council are programs of Ontario Nature designed to develop youth capacity for leadership and provide opportunities for youth to undertake conservation and advocacy activities.
At the De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre in Brantford, the Healthy Kids Community Challenge encourages youth to engage in traditional exercises that promote health and celebrate Indigenous culture.