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How Climate Change Anxiety Affects Young Adults

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Young adults will inherit a world that is deeply impacted by climate change. Thus, a large portion of this generation feels both hopeless and helpless about the future of the planet. As a result, young adults often experience what’s known as climate change anxiety, climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety.

Mental health experts agree that climate change anxiety is not a disorder as much as a normal response to a threatening reality—the current ecological crisis. However, eco-anxiety can trigger mental health problems or make existing mental health conditions worse.

Key Takeaways

  • Climate change anxiety is characterized by feelings of being out of control, overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed.
  • These mental health impacts may increase as global warming continues.
  • Research shows a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts in areas that experience intense heat and flooding.
  • Young adults can practice self-care to support well-being even in the midst of uncertainty.

What Is Climate Change Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association defined the term “eco-anxiety” in 2017, describing it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” The APA stated that the impact of climate change on individuals’ quality of life “may lead to loss of personal and professional identity, loss of social support structures, loss of a sense of control and autonomy and other mental health impacts such as feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism.”

Climate change anxiety in young adults is characterized by feelings of being out of control, extremely worried, overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed. Experts predict that this form of climate anxiety and climate change depression could lead to as many as 26,000 suicides among Americans by 2050.

Know the Facts

The American Psychological Association defined the term “eco-anxiety” in 2017, describing it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.

How Many People Have Climate Anxiety?

Surveys show that young people around the world are worried about climate change. A global survey asked 10,000 teens and young adults (ages 16–25) about the mental health impact of global warming. The study, published in The Lancet, found the following statistics on eco-anxiety:

  • 59 percent were very or extremely worried
  • 84 percent were at least moderately worried
  • More than half reported experiencing negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt
  • About 45 percent said their feelings about climate change “negatively affected their daily life and functioning”
  • 75 percent said that they think the future is frightening
  • Close to 60 percent believed “humanity is doomed”

Clearly, young people are extremely worried about climate change and are already feeling the psychological impact of environmental problems.

New Research on the Consequences of Global Warming

A report released in March 2023 warned that the planet is in critical danger unless humans are able to make a drastic shift away from fossil fuels. Global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels within the next decade. If it gets much higher, scientists predict, the result could be life-threatening heat waves, floods, food and water shortages, and infectious diseases.

Furthermore, new research is pinpointing the psychological impact of the ecological crisis. Conducted in Bangladesh, a study published in the Lancet in February 2023 analyzed how extreme heat and humidity and other climate-related events influence the development of mental health disorders. Researchers found that people experiencing one-degree Celsius higher temperatures during the two months preceding the study had a 21 per cent higher probability of an anxiety disorder. And they had a 24 per cent higher likelihood of both depression and an anxiety disorder simultaneously.

Furthermore, exposure to flooding linked to climate change was attributed to increased odds of depression (by 31 per cent), anxiety (by 69 per cent), and both depression and anxiety (by 87 per cent).

We have now established a high-water mark that, alas, could soon be eclipsed for how climate can impact mental health in a highly vulnerable country. This should serve as a warning for other nations.”

Syed Shabab Wahid, lead author, assistant professor, Department of Global Health, Georgetown University’s School of Health

Eco-Anxiety and Suicide Rates

Researchers have also examined the correlation between climate change depression or climate anxiety with suicide. For a 2018 study published in Nature, Stanford University professor Marshall Burke and his colleagues analyzed data from multiple decades of records.

The research team examined how temperature in a given region related to the frequency of specific depression-related keywords used on Twitter. Then the researchers used models to predict future climate change rates. Using these projections, they tracked correlations between mental health and climate change.

Hence, researchers estimated that if monthly average temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius, suicide rates will increase by 0.7 percent in the United States. If global temperatures continue to rise, between 14,000 and 26,000 Americans could die by climate change–related suicide by 2050.

What Causes Climate Change Anxiety?

The study cited above expands an existing body of research on the negative effects of climate change on mental and emotional well-being. It is clear that climate change can trigger anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders. Additional studies show that hotter weather leads to more incidents of violence and aggression, as well as self-harm.

What causes climate change anxiety, or eco-anxiety? Stressors such as economic impacts and infrastructure issues related to the climate crisis create chronic stress. Moreover, the effects of heat and sleep loss due to the changing climate wreak havoc on emotion regulation and cognitive functioning. In addition, natural disasters like floods and storms are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. And survivors of these extreme weather events may experience the loss of loved ones and loss of a home, as well as intense fear and trauma that leads to PTSD.

Like the COVID pandemic, the environmental crisis includes multiple factors that negatively impact mental health, in a variety of simultaneous ways. And young people are the ones who will bear the burden of these devastating effects, including higher rates of mental illness.

Youth Are Leading the Fight Against Climate Change

Fighting to save the planet can be an effective way to counteract eco-anxiety. Many young people engage in environmental activism as a way to help make a difference and feel they have some control. High-profile activists like Greta Thunberg serve as influencers for youth, setting an example by speaking out. Other young climate change activists include Bruno Rodriguez, who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit in 2019; Isra Hirsi, the co-founder of the US Youth Climate Strike; and Vic Barrett, a Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education.

But greater awareness of and focus on the issue can also increase the symptoms. An episode of the Netflix series Queer Eye highlighted this problem by featuring a young adult climate change activist who was struggling with anxiety and had a hard time prioritizing self-care. The message of the episode was that young activists need to find ways to support their mental health.

How Young Adults Can Cope with Eco-Anxiety

To ward off or deal with the symptoms of climate change anxiety, young adults can practice these self-care approaches:

  • Make personal changes that don’t decrease well-being: Making small but important lifestyle changes can help young adults feel that they have more control over the situation. You might choose to eat less meat, travel by plane less often, or carpool more. However, avoid extreme lifestyle changes that create additional physical or mental stress.
  • Seek support for your work: Connect with like-minded individuals who are also working toward a better future. Doing this work with others helps you feel less alone and creates a shared sense of hope, direction, and determination.
  • Address your anxiety directly: A mental health professional can help you establish healthy coping mechanisms for climate change depression or anxiety. There are also organizations and programs dedicated to this issue: The Good Grief Network’s offers a 10-Step program designed to “build personal resilience and empowerment while strengthening community ties to combat despair, inaction, and eco-anxiety on the collective level.”
  • Get out into nature: A 2019 study found that spending just two hours a week in nature significantly increases health and well-being. Spending time in parks, forests, or by the ocean is a reminder that, despite the effects of climate change, the beauty of the natural world endures.

Treatment for Depression and Anxiety at Newport Institute

At Newport Institute, we understand the unique challenges that young adults face in a changing world. Our compassionate and experienced clinicians help young people build resilience and learn healthy coping strategies, so they can navigate stress and uncertainty with strength and support. Moreover, we help young adults ages 18–35 to process past trauma that may be preventing them from moving forward with confidence and self-worth.

Our residential and outpatient treatment programs across the country provide a robust schedule of individual therapy, family therapy, experiential activities, group therapy, and life skills training. Contact us today for a mental health assessment at no charge. We’ll help you find the right program for you, so you can get the tools you need to thrive and make a difference for yourself, your loved ones, your community, and the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does climate change cause anxiety?
  • What is climate change anxiety called?
  • Who is most at risk of eco-anxiety?
  • How many people suffer from eco-anxiety?



Lancet. 2023 Feb; 7(2): 137–146.

AR6 Synthesis Report 2023

Lancet. 2021 Dec; 5 (12): 863–873.

Sci Rep. 2019 June; 7730: 41598–44097.

Lancet. 2018 Dec;392(10163): 2479–2514.

Nature Climate Change. 2018 July; 8(8).

PLoS Med. 2018 July;15(7):e1002605.

Mental Health / March 21, 2023

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