Australia”s young people appear to know this all too well. Preliminary findings from our recent research show many young people are worried about the future. And those directly exposed to the Black Summer bushfires suffered mental health problems long after the flames went out.
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It”s clear that along with the other catastrophic potential harm caused by climate change, the mental health of young people is at risk. We must find effective ways to help young people cope with climate change anxiety.
Young people affected by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 have continued to suffer mental health problems long after the fires went out.
Our yet-to-be published study was conducted between early March and early June this year. It involved 740 young people in New South Wales between the ages of 16 and 25 completing a series of standardised questionnaires about their current emotional state, and their concerns about climate change.
Our early findings were presented at the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) conference online earlier this year.
Some 57% of respondents lived in metropolitan areas and 43% in rural or regional areas. About 78.3% were female, about 20.4% male and around 1% preferred not to say.
Overall, just over 18% of the respondents had been directly exposed to the bushfires over the past year. About the same percentage had been directly exposed to drought in that period, and more than 83% were directly exposed to bushfire smoke.
Our preliminary results showed respondents with direct exposure to the Black Summer bushfires reported significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress, adjustment disorder symptoms, and drug and alcohol use than those not directly exposed to these bushfires.
Many of the respondents were clearly concerned about the future.
Many young people were clearly concerned about the future. One 16 year old female respondent from a rural/regional area told us:
Another 24 year old female respondent from a rural/regional area said:
Young people directly exposed to drought also showed higher levels of anxiety and stress than non-exposed youth.
”I feel like climate change is here now”
Those with direct exposure to bushfires were more likely than non-exposed young people to believe climate change was:
Both groups were equally likely — and highly likely — to believe that the environment is fragile and easily damaged by human activity, and that serious damage from human activity is already occurring and could soon have catastrophic consequences for both nature and humans.
One 23 year old female respondent from a metropolitan area told us:
One 19 year old male respondent from a metropolitan area said:
When asked how climate change makes them feel, answers varied. Some were not at all concerned (with a minority questioning whether it was even happening). Others reported feeling scared, worried, anxious, sad, angry, nervous, concerned for themselves and/or future generations, depressed, terrified, confused, and helpless.
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