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High anxiety: Why climate change is getting personal for concerned teens

Media Academy

Brisbane State High School student Angus Grant is an avid surfer, mountain climber, diver, and fisherman, who worries that climate change is going to destroy all of the things he loves.

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For him, the climate crisis is both personal and political.

“If I had no waves to catch, no mountains to climb, and no reef to snorkel and fish, I’d genuinely have very little to wake up to each day,” he said. “The political debate needs to shift to the most effective way of addressing climate change, rather than the extent to which it needs to be addressed.”

He also criticises the partisanship that has affected the Australian Government’s stance on climate policy, and thinks that the government should be taking more action, a view shared by his fellow Grade 11 student Angeli Lamont.

Lamont believes the inaction of Federal and State governments is doing little to address students’ eco-anxiety.

“Not only are [the Australian government] continuing to approve detrimental coal projects and fund the gas industry, they have tried to delegitimise the opinions of young environmental activists,” he said.

“It makes me feel as though no matter how hard I try, I am helpless in saving our future.”

Like Angus and Angeli, several Brisbane inner-city students report experiencing increasing levels of climate anxiety, describing the government’s lack of climate action as a direct cause.

Eco-anxiety is a chronic fear of environmental disaster. In other words, eco-anxiety is persistent stress about the loss of ecosystems. It is a fear of increasing natural disasters. It is panic about the erosion of human living conditions – all due to climate change.

The Australian Psychological Society reports that four in five Australian high school students experience this stress, with fifty percent of young people feeling anxious on a weekly basis.

Professor Susan Clayton, a member of the American Psychological Association’s task force on climate anxiety, believes the concerns of inner-city high school students represent a bigger issue that needs a broader response.

Clayton has called for a more nuanced mental health approach in dealing with eco-anxiety amongst young people. However, she emphasises in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders (2020) that ‘a focus on individual mental health should not distract attention from the societal response that is necessary to deal with climate change.’

Essentially, she states that strengthening personal mental health solutions should not detract from the need for an active government response concerning the climate.

An academic article published in the Lancet advocates for family-oriented responses in dealing with eco-anxiety among young people explains that it is important for students to have their fear and disillusionment validated. Parents are encouraged to provide time for empathetic communication and goal-directed activities.

While these individualised solutions may alleviate some students’ eco-anxiety, many still call for a more proactive stance by Federal and State governments in regards to climate change.


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