May 10, 2023

Climate change impacting your mental health? We’ve got you.

Person hiking in mountains

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight an often under-discussed issue–and a medical challenge that, too often, isn’t met with the resources, treatment or attention that it deserves. There are so many aspects to securing good mental health, and we want to address just one of them–anxiety related to climate change.


As you can tell from our name, we care deeply not just about today’s communities, but also the next seven generations to come. The next one in particular is the generation we want to address this month. A 2021 survey of 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 found that 84% were at least somewhat worried. Around half said they felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty” and that it affected their daily life. What’s more, according to Phoenix Smith, an ecotherapist who works on anxiety related to climate change, these feelings aren’t just mental–they can manifest as physical. As Smith told NPR last fall, “When you're in the fight-or-flight mode, you're grinding your teeth,” Smith says. “You're holding your body tight.”


This is a challenge that isn’t going to go away, and for some, won’t necessarily get better. Increasing rates and severity of extreme weather, such as drought, heat waves and hurricanes, means the new normal is what will be increasingly normal for this next generation. Or as Smith, who lives in California and has lived through the state’s decades-long drought, puts it, “It's not like, 'Oh, when things get back to normal.' There's no 'normal' to get back to. We are all going to be uncomfortable. So I'm not going to tell you. 'Do this! do that!' No, we all are going to have to learn and find tools to learn to sit with the discomfort.”


So what can we do in the face of such a challenge? Plenty, it turns out! Below we offer five tips and resources to help.

  • First, make sure to grapple with–not ignore–feelings, whether yours or those of someone you love.
  • Second, after you address those feelings, find calm. Britt Wray is the author of Gen Dread, a newsletter about staying sane and finding purpose in the climate crisis. Britt notes that mindfulness practices, as well as meditation, can be very effective for grounding oneself instead of spiraling. Phoenix Smith says that being in nature–whether on your porch or in a park–“has the impact of calming your central nervous system so you can find a way to kind of reset.” Breathing exercises or even working with a therapist can also be helpful.
  • Third, learn about the options online and out there for you. For parents, guardians and caregivers of all types out there, our friends at the Climate Mental Health Network and Talk Climate hosted a panel on May 10 to help break the silence and handle tough climate conversations with young people you care about.
  • Fourth, take a look at all their resources, including the new family resource guide, “How to Talk to Young People About Climate Emotions.” You can also review the parents/guardians guide here, and their tips and resources page here.
  • Finally, a great way to fight despair and hopelessness is through hope, when it’s grounded in experiences and facts. Climate change is indeed a big challenge, but we’ve tackled big challenges before–from putting a man on the moon to inventing a way to power everything using the sun and wind! What’s more, those solutions are scaling up, and fast. Consider these points to help inspire hope:
    • In 1975, each additional watt of solar capacity cost $100. Now it’s 27 cents and well ahead of what Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models predicted they would be in 2050.
    • The price of lithium-ion batteries per kilowatt-hour fell by 97% between 1991 and 2018, and they’re longer lasting and higher capacity than they used to be.
    • In 2006, just 1 in 500 cars sold were electric or plug-in hybrids; in 2022, the figure was more than 1 in 8 worldwide. We’re on our way!

By highlighting successful efforts to tackle climate change, we can help prevent anxiety while making sure to still call out and treat it when you see it.


As you consider how to best observe Mental Health Awareness Month, remember that climate change can be a big contributor to mental health challenges, especially among the next generation. But resources, treatment and hope are out there for you.