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August 1, 2021

Is the failing state of the planet causing our youth to be stressed?

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Adel Pheloung

Poor mental health in youth is an ever increasing problem.

It is often flagged at by the media and various organisations, and whilst there are often brilliant resources that can be found, when it comes down to the cause of the increase in mental illness in Gen Z, parents and caregivers tend to put it (somewhat jokingly) down to our phones.

Sure, social media has had a huge impact on the self-esteem of today’s youth. However, back in the 80s, magazines were obsessed over by many teens, and staring at endless pages of skinny supermodels wasn’t great for body image either.

But today there is another cause for young people’s increased anxiety and depression (aside from the many other physical and mental factors) that has largely been undetected by health professionals and parents – climate change.

I am 16, and I can easily say that I have experienced anxiety attacks and bouts of depression owing to what I call ‘climate stress’. And I am not in a minority. 

I spoke to some people I know between the ages of 14 and 16, and the responses were staggering.

Everyone was worried about the state the planet is in, ‘especially during natural disasters, because obviously it’s only going to get worse into the future and that ‘all of the beautiful, natural places in the world are being polluted and ruined, and animals are going extinct’ (Samara, 16).

But the extent of the damage that our climate emergency is having on the mental health of youth goes beyond the worry of what will happen to the planet. ‘In times where I have been anxious or suicidal, and am already feeling pretty hopeless, the fact that the Earth could have a pretty awful future just makes everything I’m working to get through seem pointless’ (Anonymous, 16).

Hearing directly from a young person that global warming is making them not see much point in working through severe mental illnesses, is terrifying to hear.

We are so close to irreversible damage to our planet that a lot of us youth have felt this way at some point. Our futures are also being dictated by this emergency. ‘I feel that my career path is very much shaped by the way our environment is rapidly declining. I almost feel obligated to go down a route that helps to improve the environment instead of something else I am really passionate about. As well, why would I want to raise a child in a world that could end very quickly?” (Anonymous, 16)

Who runs the world?

Many young people haven’t mentioned their fears because ‘It won’t make me feel better’ (Anonymous, 14). This could easily be put down to the fact that we are watching the majority of adults ‘not doing anything’, totally ignoring what the planet, scientists, and young people (often albeit internally), are screaming.

Another friend of mine raised a fair point on why she hasn’t mentioned how she feels to adults about climate change. ‘I’ve never really expressed how much it affects me mentally,’ she said, ‘because society always manages to make you feel like you’re in the wrong for worrying too much, as the “adults will sort it out”’ (Anonymous, 16).

To top it off, for Byron youth, the Australian government is the worst in the world with its lack of climate action policies, according to the Climate Change Performance Index’s (CCPI) 2020 report. Our government is making decisions that are actively worsening climate change, rather than trying to prevent and reverse it.

The problem is that all of the children and teenagers that want change, are unable to vote for leaders that will at least try to solve the problems, whilst a lot of ‘people continue to act like it isn’t an issue and governments keep shutting out our opinions.’ (Samara, 16). 

And yet

We still can turn the tide against global warming, even as young people in a home where we cannot install solar panels. You can choose where your money goes; this sounds obvious, but by using a bank that only invests in renewable energy sources, or only shopping from companies that have traceable sustainability, you are having your say in what you want to happen to the climate.

The youth of Byron Shire seem to do particularly well. Around 6,000 students went to the Student Strike 4 Climate in Byron Bay last year, and 15 year old Nalani, in partnership with Resilient Byron, is researching the impact climate change has on youth mental health. She has submitted a draft proposal for getting youth more involved with movements regarding our future, and is distributing a survey to local schools to get opinions from young people about what projects could be done.

Whilst, yes, the way the planet is going, we may not have a hospitable place to live in a few decades here, and yes, this is absolutely impacting on the mental health of today’s youth, however, the world still has a window of opportunity in which to act.

It’s not too late, just yet.

♦ Adel Pheloung is a year ten student doing work experience at The Echo.

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  1. I would love to connect with Adel Pheloung about this article as it directly relates to Byron Youth Theatre’s How on Earth Part 1 and 2 productions. We will be presenting it to Shearwater students in late March as they missed out on the performance last year in November due to camps and we will also be holding a community performance at The Drill Hall Theatre on Arpil 3rd after we complete a tour of Clarence Valley!!
    Adel here’s my email address [email protected].
    Thank you for the great article

  2. Absolutely agree, combine that with Covid and the inability for our youth to travel as we did when we were young and unattached and needed to experience the world and other cultures, the housing crisis putting a strain on families as young people are unable to even have a hope of finding a place of their own, no wonder they are getting anxiety and or depression.

  3. Hi Adel , it is commendable that you are wanting to
    See more action on the deforestation of the planet
    Save our bees, rescue our whales , rid the oceans
    Of plastics . However Adel there is always to sides
    To a debate ! And you are obviously listening
    To dooms day propaganda regarding climate change which incidentally was previously referred to as
    Global Warming . Adel although Australia exports
    Large quantities of Coal / iron ore our contribution
    To Global Warming is but 1.3 percent of the total
    Emissions worldwide.. now if for instance if Australia Shutdown its exports other countries
    Would source iron ore which is poor quality in comparison to Australia’s.. and hence this debate
    That terrible global citizen Australia. this is incorrect.
    Adel debate will rage on for decades to come
    Regarding Global Warming and the propaganda
    And education, that we have 10 years , or so to act
    Is brainwashing the youth to the point of metal
    Health issues and is very concerning indeed .
    It has spiked by 40 % .. youth of today Adel contrary
    To what you have been told have never had it better
    In Australia !! Apart from some broken families
    And of course homelessness which accounts for about 40.000 teens today on the streets at anyone time, now that is a fact and real and
    Concerning !! Anyway once again Adel well done
    And just maybe think about ways that the youth
    Of today could minimise there carbon footprint on
    On planet earth before asking anyone else.. also
    Please so so research on the Major polluters
    Of the world china , India, America, Malaysia
    Etc .. call those countries out to minimize
    There carbon footprint … china alone 33%
    Australia 1.3 percent .. Good luck Adel ..
    and all the youth you are the future.. ..


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