Most adolescents experience climate worry, which can be constructively associated with societal engagement but can also be associated with greater depression

Sciberras, E. ., & Fernando, J. W. (2022). Climate change-related worry among Australian adolescents: an eight-year longitudinal study. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 27, 22-29.

While there is evidence that climate change is a source of worry and negative emotions for young people, more information is needed to understand its implications on broader mental health. Little is also known about the association between climate-related emotions and engagement in climate action among youth. This longitudinal study sought to examine climate change-related worry among Australian adolescents and to examine the relationship between climate concerns and generalized mental health difficulties as well as engagement with the news and current affairs.

Data collection occurred over an eight-year period, beginning when participants were age 10-11 and concluding at age 18-19, with 3037 adolescents participating in the final phase of the study. Worry related to the environment and climate change was assessed at the ages of 10-11, 12-13, 16-17, and 18-19 on a 4-point scale. Mental health was assessed at age 18-19 using the Kessler Depression Scale. Engagement with politics, news, and current affairs was also evaluated at age 18-19 using a series of questions rated on a 5-point scale. Researchers examined the association between climate worry trajectories, mental health, and political engagement.

Results reveal that nearly half of the adolescents experienced increasing (24.3%) or moderate (24.9%) worry about climate-change over the course of the study while 12.9% had high persistent worry (which the authors suggest may be related to a tendency to worry generally). The remainder of adolescents were grouped as persistently low worry (16.8%), slightly decreasing worry (13.2%) and steeply decreasing worry (7.8%). Participants with high persistent climate change worry, as well as the slightly decreasing worry group, had higher depression symptoms when compared to the moderate worry group. Also, in comparison to the moderate group, political engagement and engagement with the news were greater in the high persistent and increasing climate worry groups, while those with low persistent and steeply decreasing worry reported lower levels of engagement with news and politics.

The authors conclude that most participants (75%) experienced at least moderate concern about climate change from early to late adolescence. Many reported high or increasing levels of worry about climate change, which was positively associated with greater societal engagement. This “constructive worry” may be an important precursor to climate action. Although adolescents with increasing climate worry did not differ from the moderate group in their depression symptoms, adolescents with persistent climate worry demonstrated higher depressive symptoms. Teachers and caregiver should validate the realistic climate worry of adolescents, while assisting them to harness that worry toward constructive action.

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