Climate change concerns impact on young Australians’ psychological distress and outlook for the future

Shu Mei Teo, Caroline X. Gao, Naheen Brennan, Nicholas Fava, Magenta B. Simmons, David Baker, Isabel Zbukvic, Debra J. Rickwood, Ellie Brown, Catherine L. Smith, Amity E. Watson, Vivienne Browne, Sue Cotton, Patrick McGorry, Eóin Killackey, Tamara Freeburn, Kate M. Filia

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Abstract

Aims: Climate change is escalating and will disproportionately affect young people. Research on the mental health consequences of worry or concerns related to climate change are so far limited. This study aims to evaluate the extent of climate change concern in young people aged 15–19, its association with various demographic factors and its impact on psychological distress and future outlook. Understanding the impact of climate concerns on young people's mental wellbeing is crucial for identifying effective measures and building resilience. Methods: Climate concerns, psychological distress, and future outlook were measured in the 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey, Australia's largest annual population-wide survey of young people aged 15 to 19 (N = 18,800). Multinomial logistic regression models were used to map factors associated with climate concerns and assess whether climate concerns are associated with psychological distress and future outlook. Results: One in four young people reported feeling very or extremely concerned about climate change. Climate concerns were higher among individuals identifying as female or gender diverse, or who self-reported a mental health condition. After controlling for confounding factors, we found those who were very or extremely concerned about climate change to be more likely to have high psychological distress than those not at all concerned (Relative risk ratio (RRR) = 1.81; 95% CI: 1.56–2.11), and more likely to have a negative future outlook (RRR = 1.52; 95% CI: 1.27–1.81). These associations were stronger among participants who reported to be gender diverse, Indigenous or from outer-regional/remote areas. Conclusion: This study identified associations between climate concerns, psychological distress, and future outlook among young people. Immediate attention from research and policy sectors to support climate change education, communication strategies and targeted interventions is urgently required to mitigate long-term impacts on young people's wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102209
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Volume93
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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