October 13, 2021
Forty-five percent globally reported that their feelings towards the prevailing climate crisis are having negative impacts on daily functioning, which include eating, concentrating, work, school, sleeping, spending time in nature, playing, having fun, and dealing with relationships.
In the Philippines, this number went up to a worrying 75 percent, with the report recognizing that young people in the Global South are experiencing more severe climate anxiety—which is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”
These figures were shared by Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and teaching fellow at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, during the 18th episode of The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ Klimatotohanan webcast series entitled “Feeling Anxious and Hopeful About Our Collective Futures: How the Climate Crisis is Affecting Our Mental Health.”
Hickman is the co-lead author of the study, “Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon,” which has been released on a pre-publication basis by the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health while it is undergoing peer-review process.
The said study is the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship to government response. It surveyed 10,000 children and young people, aged 16 to 25, from Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, UK, and the USA.
Facing difficult truths: Climate anxiety in numbers
The results of the survey among the Filipino youth are sobering. Seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents (compared to 55% worldwide) think that they won’t have access to the same opportunities that their parents had. Seventy-seven (77%) of respondents (compared 52% worldwide) think that their family’s economic, social, and physical security will be threatened. Forty-seven percent (47%) of the respondents (compared to 39%) are hesitant to have children because of climate change.
Linkages between climate anxiety and global climate inaction
“Climate anxiety is not a mental illness. But if we put together the realities of climate change with climate anxiety and global inadequate action, then what we are looking at are chronic, inescapable stressors that will inevitably impact the mental health of children and young people,” said Hickman, who is also a board member of the Climate Psychological Alliance, a non-profit that aims to address the psychological dimensions of the climate and ecological crisis.
Hickman explained that climate anxiety is inextricably linked to the failure of those in power to act decisively and sufficiently to address the prevailing climate crisis.
To understand the correlation between climate anxiety and actions or inactions of governments around the world, Hickman said they asked respondents what they think of the response of the governments (globally, not just their own governments) to the prevailing climate crisis. Here are the results in the Philippines: Sixty-eight percent (68%) think that governments are failing young people. Sixty-nine percent (69%) think that governments are lying about the impact of their actions. Fifty-six percent (56%) think that governments are betraying them and future generations.
“We need to acknowledge the concurrent mental health distress that this [climate crisis] is causing. We need to be clear that unless we take global action, we are leaving young people in the most vulnerable countries in the world feeling distressed and feeling abandoned and betrayed,” she added.
Individual vs collective climate actions
Jon Bonifacio, Education Coordinator of the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, noted that while individual actions matter, there is a need to clamor collectively for systemic solutions to the climate problem. “The primary solution [to the climate crisis] really is to find ways to address it to change current conditions. And the best way to do that is to do it together and collectively,” he said.
Hickman agreed, warning young climate advocates not to fall into “the binary of either naïve optimism or apocalyptic thinking. “We have to take care of ourselves in whatever form of activism we’re engaging in. Any internal activism needs to be balanced with external activism. Otherwise, it’s a really high risk that we’ll just burn out,” she added.
She also advised authorities against dismissing climate anxiety. “We’re causing moral injury if we disregard these figures,” she said adding that young people must be listened to, understood, and taken seriously. “If we can do that seriously and properly, then young people can be reassured, protected, valued, and hopeful,” she added.