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'Climate anxiety' is a worrying new mental health issue among millennials, but experts say we have every right to be concerned

People are so concerned about the planet’s future they’ve decided not to have children.

30 Apr 2019

With National Geographic tweeting that we “have just ten years to save ourselves”, climate anxiety is currently setting in amongst millennials.

Socio-political group, Extinction Rebellion, have been successfully drawing attention to the cause with their recent London protests. And panic has reached such fever pitch, that members of movement Birthstrike are so concerned about the planet’s future they’ve decided not to have children.

Arguably an extreme measure, there’s no doubt tensions are mounting about the effects of climate change. It’s a worrying planet prognosis and with similarly alarming headlines everywhere we look, what impact is this having on our mental health? Suddenly climate anxiety has become a very real issue, and millennials describe experiencing a severe emotional response to this ecological crisis as a result.

Psychotherapist Elizabeth Earnshaw (@phillycouplestherapist) sees feeling overwhelmed, and at times powerless, as a sign of how passionate millennials are about the environment. She says this sense of a need to make good choices in our daily lives then creates anxiety “that’s either activating - which results in protesting, advocating, and working towards change or a more depressed or numbed feeling of not being sure how to engage in a way that might change or improve things.” Elizabeth expands, “For some people it does create a sort of existential crisis of “what does this all mean” or “is it even ethical to have children””.

Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts at Newcastle University, confirms we have every right to be worried, saying, “we should believe the media hype. We need to be seriously concerned for ourselves and future generations.”

Hayley clarifies since pre-industrial times, the world has already warmed by more than 1 degree, with human activity being the major cause. She says: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report which stated that to keep below 1.5 degrees warmer we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next 12 years and to zero by 2050.”

Hayley continues that these measures are necessary because climate change impact we’re already seeing includes storms, flooding, droughts and sea levels rising, with global warming having the potential to seriously affect society as we know it.

Thankfully inspirational teen climate activist, Greta Thunberg, founder of the Youth Strike for Climate movement, has been singlehandedly commanding our MPs’ attention recently. Beginning with a solo protest in Sweden last year, she has roused students from all around the globe to join her. Nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize, Greta’s work resonates worldwide and as a student herself, millennial Phoebe Eyles (@phoebs_eyles) elaborates, “The main issues surrounding climate change that cause me to worry is how governments are not stepping up to address how massive the problem is.” Phoebe emphasises, “If governments were actively doing more, I think less people would be anxious about it,” before highlighting “I can understand why women would say they’d think twice about having kids, but I still remain hopeful that more will be done to improve our environment for future generations”.

Phoebe’s millennial peer, Lana Suhova, blogger and founder of Dalry Rose Digital (@lanasuhova), agrees. She said: “Day-to-day we’re feeling the weight of responsibility, and hearing about climate change in the news adds a certain pressure to take charge.” Lana admits “This does scare me, even instilling a feeling of catastrophe. But it’s important to know that we can all make small changes and adjust these according to our own lifestyles”.

Above all, Hayley urges us to keep working for a better future by joining Greta in lobbying governments, banks and large organisations, as well as making changes to reduce emissions. And hopefully with a wider focus on the anxiety-inducing impact climate change chat can have, we’ll be able to improve this interlinked issue too.

I’ve often felt hugely overwhelmed by the vast importance attached to making a difference for our global future, but I think the key here is breaking it all down. In terms of both anxiety levels and the climate, we need to somehow make things feel more manageable. As Hayley finishes, “The scale of change is immense but not insurmountable.”