Children are increasingly aware of climate change, and it can affect their emotions and mental well-being. Mental wellbeing can be affected by climate change in three ways: direct impact, such as trauma from a climate change weather event; indirect effects from shifts in social determinants of health, such as stress from income insecurity resulting from climate change; and negative emotional responses from awareness of an imminent threat from climate change. This scoping review of the literature focuses on the latter – the impact of overarching climate change awareness on children's mental wellbeing and emotions.
The authors found 33 relevant articles addressing the impact of climate change awareness on children's mental wellbeing and negative emotions. The focus was on school-aged children, 3-19 years old. Anxiety and worry were the most common mental health outcomes assessed. Other emotions children experienced include grief, sadness, powerlessness, hopelessness, anger, helplessness, phobia, and despair.
The findings indicate that mental well-being challenges and negative emotions from climate change are common among children. This includes feeling anxious and stressed when hearing about climate change. One study indicated that anxiety and stress were more prevalent among older adolescents. Another study distinguished between problem-focused coping (aimed at finding a way to help with climate change), which has been found to be associated with more climate change worry, and meaning-focused coping (aimed at positive reappraisal of the issue), which has been found to be positively related to life satisfaction for older adolescents.
Several research gaps need to be addressed: the impact of climate change on children's mental wellbeing; the effect of climate change on the developing world; how children cope with negative emotions about climate change; and the long-term effect of climate change on children, which will require the utilization of longitudinal research designs. The authors noted that much of the work in this space has been theoretical, and more empirical research across a range of geographies and cultures is needed to examine the prevalence of negative emotional responses and impact of climate change. Finally, research is needed on factors distinguishing adaptive and maladaptive responses to climate change. Addressing these gaps in research will help inform schools, parents, communities, and other practitioners as to how best to support children's mental wellbeing.