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Mental Health, Youth

flood-impacted young people show resilience in the face of eco-anxiety

headspace 5 mins read

Thursday 7 September 2023

New research released today from headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation reveals that over half of Australian young people (53%) surveyed feel fearful about the future due to the impacts of climate change – a view that is shared by many young people living in disaster-hit communities.

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey found that anxiety about climate change is affecting the daily lives of 18 to 25-year-olds (22%) as well as their decisions about the future. Two in five (42%) young people surveyed were worried that they won't have access to the same opportunities their parents had as a result of climate change, and one third (34%) cited climate change as the reason they are hesitant to have children.

While almost half (46%) of young people were worried whether they’re doing enough to have an impact on climate change, many felt that their own individual actions might not be enough to make a difference anyway (50%).

The results shed light on the effects of climate change on the mental health and well-being of young people, particularly in the wake of catastrophic events of recent years including the Black Summer bushfires and floods in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland.

headspace today launched a video series that shares the stories of young people who experienced the devastating 2022 floods. By sharing their journeys publicly, young people, their parents and caregivers are hoping to shed light on the experiences of young people impacted by extreme weather events, while also demonstrating their resilience and ability to get through tough times.

One of the young people who features in the series, 24-year-old Sereena Zanuso, was born and raised in Lismore. Sereena shares how she is looking after herself following the experience of the 2022 Floods and overcoming the anxiety relating to extreme weather events fuelled by climate change.

“Waking up Monday morning and hearing that the water was two metres higher than the 2017 levels… it was really hard to comprehend. It was far more extreme that it ever has been, or what we thought it could be.

“I think that the general feeling in the community was one of gut-wrenching pain. Not on just a physical and mental level, but also a spiritual level. It was our whole community – tens of thousands of people – impacted.

“Even today in 2023, there are houses that are empty, and it plays on your mind. There were people living in those homes once, and there are no longer people there. It hits very close to home.”

Sereena believes it is important for young people impacted by extreme weather events to take the time to look after themselves.

“My piece of advice for young people going through natural disasters is acknowledging that it is going to be hard. It is hard, and it will be for a long time. It is a year on, and it is still something I’m dealing with. But that’s okay. It’s a very real issue.

“Brush your hair, clean your teeth, make your bed. Take these smalls steps to make something bigger for you.”

She added: "The catchphrase of Lismore is ‘come to the heart,’ and over the past 18 months this community heart has really shone through. I feel that everyone in the community has contributed in some way to the recovery effort, whether this be through giving up their time volunteering, providing donations where needed or supporting local businesses when they were back up and running."

headspace National Clinical Advisor Rupert Saunders said: “It is very normal for young people to feel concerned about the impacts of climate change, as they are aware that it is a global issue that will likely have a profound effect on their future.

“In some instances, young people have told us that their frustrations, stress, guilt and worry about climate change interfere with their daily lives.

“We encourage young people experiencing anxiety about climate change to find ways of building strategies for when things feel overwhelming. Taking a break from the news cycle or social media channels that can cause anxiety, talking with your friends and family about your feelings, looking after yourself by doing the things you enjoy and developing helpful habits – like eating well and exercising – are all ways young people can look after themselves when experiencing heightened emotions about climate change.

“We also know that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking action can help you feel more in control and help things seem more manageable. Young people have the energy, willingness and influence to help make a difference – whether that’s by voting, getting involved in their community, or having conversations about climate change with family and friends – and we encourage them to do so.

“It is also important to remember that while young people can feel empowered to shape the fight against climate change, it can’t rest solely on their shoulders. Governments must heed young Australians’ call to take action against the climate crisis.”

To help provide a platform for conversation, headspace will host an online group chat on Thursday 14th September for young people to talk with their peers about how climate change is impacting them and share actionable ideas to making a change. The conversation will be led by mental health professionals and members of the headspace Youth National Reference Group.

Watch headspace’s After the Floods series at headspace.org.au/floods

Join the headspace group chat about climate change at headspace.org.au/online-and-phone-support/join-the-community/chats-by-professionals/

Young people aged 12 to 25, as well as their family and friends can visit headspace for support. Help is also available via phone and online counselling service, eheadspace, seven days a week between 9am–1am (AEST). The number is 1800 650 890.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to immediately, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7.

-ENDS-

Notes to Editor: Study key findings

  • Half of young people aged 18-25 surveyed report feeling fearful of the future due to the impacts of climate change (53%)
    o This was higher in metro regions (55%) compared to regional areas (49%)
  • Half of young people worry that whatever actions they take to address climate change won't really matter, indicating a sense of powerlessness and frustration in their efforts to combat the crisis (50%)
  • Three in five young people agree or strongly agree that our country/government is not doing enough to address climate change (59%)
  • Almost two in five young respondents tend to worry even when the effects of climate change may be some time away (37%)
  • Two in five fear they won't have access to the same opportunities their parents had due to the impacts of climate change (42%)
  • A third worry about how climate change may affect the people they care about (33%)
  • One in five said they worry about climate change so much that they feel paralysed in being able to do anything about it (21%)

Notes to Editor: Tips for young people dealing with climate anxiety

  • Stay informed: Seek reliable sources of information about climate change to understand its impacts and potential solutions. Join headspace’s forum on Thursday 14th September 2023 via this link: https://headspace.org.au/online-and-phone-support/join-the-community/chats-by-professionals/
  • Connect with like-minded individuals: Join local climate action groups or online communities to share ideas and collaborate on meaningful projects.
  • Take small actions: Every individual action counts. Reduce waste, use public transport, and opt for eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Practice self-care: Engage in activities that promote mental well-being, such as spending time in nature or practicing mindfulness.
  • Advocate for change: speak up about climate issues, share your concerns with friends, family, and policymakers, and support initiatives that promote climate action.

About headspace

headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to 12-25 year olds. headspace has 154 centres across Australia in metropolitan, regional and remote areas, as well as online and phone support services through eheadspace. headspace can help young people with mental health, physical health (including sexual health) alcohol and other drug services and work and study support. Centre details, as well as factsheets and resources for young people and their families and friends, can be located on the headspace website: headspace.org.au


Contact details:

headspace Media & Communications: media@headspace.org.au or 0413 025 385

Link to more information from the National Youth Mental Health Survey

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