The Psychological Effects of Climate Change on Children

Abstract

Purpose of Review

We review recent evidence on the psychological effects of climate change on children, covering both direct and indirect impacts, and discuss children’s psychological adaptation to climate change.

Recent Findings

Both the direct and flow-on effects of climate change place children at risk of mental health consequences including PTSD, depression, anxiety, phobias, sleep disorders, attachment disorders, and substance abuse. These in turn can lead to problems with emotion regulation, cognition, learning, behavior, language development, and academic performance. Together, these create predispositions to adverse adult mental health outcomes. Children also exhibit high levels of concern over climate change. Meaning-focused coping promotes well-being and environmental engagement.

Summary

Both direct and indirect climate change impacts affect children’s psychological well-being. Children in the developing world will suffer the worst impacts. Mental health professionals have important roles in helping mitigate climate change, and researching and implementing approaches to helping children cope with its impacts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The reviews also show, however, that 12–25-year-olds have many concerns and worries that compete with climate change for their attention, like economic and employment concerns [44].

References

Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.

    Watts N, Adger WN, Agnolucci P, Blackstock J, Byass P, Cai W, et al. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. Lancet. 2015;386(10006):1861–914.

  2. 2.

    World Economic Forum. Global risks report [Internet]. WEF; 2018. Available from: http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2018/preface-2/

  3. 3.

    NOAA. Global Climate Report-Annual 2016 [Internet]. National Centers for Environmental Information; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201613

  4. 4.

    IPCC. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Geneva, Switzerland; 2014 p. 151.

  5. 5.

    American Psychiatric Association. How climate-related natural disasters affect mental health [Internet]. American Psychiatric Association; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/climate-change-and-mental-health-connections/affects-on-mental-health

  6. 6.

    Australian Psychological Society. Psychology and climate change APS position statement [Internet]. Australian Psychological Society; 2010 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/statements/climate/

  7. 7.

    American Academy of Pediatrics. Climate change and children’s health [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/climate-change/Pages/Climate-Change-and-Childrens-Health.aspx

  8. 8.

    American Psychological Association. Resolution on affirming psychologists’ role in addressing global climate change [Internet]. American Psychological Association; 2011 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/climate-change.aspx

  9. 9.

    American Public Health Association. Protecting children’s environmental health: a comprehensive framework [Internet]. American Public Health Association; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2018/01/23/protecting-childrens-environmental-health

  10. 10.

    Watts N, Amann M, Ayeb-Karlsson S, Belesova K, Bouley T, Boykoff M, et al. The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health. The Lancet [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 28]; Available from: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673617324649

  11. 11.

    Crimmins A, Balbus J, Gamble JL, Beard CB, Bell JE, Dodgen D, et al. The impacts of climate change on human health in the United States: a scientific assessment. Crimmins A, Balbus J, Gamble JL, Beard CB, Bell JE, Dodgen D, et al., editors. U.S. Global Change Research Program; 2016.

  12. 12.

    Sheffield PE, Landrigan PJ. Global climate change and children’s health: threats and strategies for prevention. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;119(3):291–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    • Clayton S, Manning C, Krygsman K, Speiser M. Mental health and our changing climate: impacts, implications, and guidance. [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: http://ecoamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ea-apa-psych-report-web.pdf This paper includes a section on how climate can impact children’s mental health, including changes to the developmental potential and trajectory of children.

  14. 14.

    Fritze JG, Blashki GA, Burke S, Wiseman J. Hope, despair and transformation: climate change and the promotion of mental health and wellbeing. Int J Ment Health Syst. 2008;2(1):13.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    UNICEF, editor. The challenges of climate change: children on the front line. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti; 2014. 112 p. (Innocenti insight).

  16. 16.

    • Gamble JL, Balbus J, Berger M, Bouye K, Campbell V, Chief K, et al. Ch. 9: populations of concern. The impacts of climate change on human health in the United States: a scientific assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program; 2016. This chapter examines in depth the health impacts of climate change at different ages and life stages, with a particular focus on the impacts on children and infants.

  17. 17.

    Norris FH, Friedman MJ, Watson PJ, Byrne CM, Diaz E, Kaniasty K. 60,000 disaster victims speak: part I. An empirical review of the empirical literature, 1981–2001. Psychiatry Interpers Biol Process. 2002;65(3):207–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    McDermott B, Cobham V. A road less travelled: a guide to children, emotions and disasters. South Brisbane: Brett McDermott & Vanessa Cobham; 2012.

  19. 19.

    Simpson DM, Weissbecker I, Sephton SE. Extreme weather-related events: implications for mental health and well-being. In: Weissbecker I, editor. Climate change and human well-being: global challenges and opportunities. New York: Springer; 2011. p. 57–78.

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Banks DM, Weems CF. Family and peer social support and their links to psychological distress among hurricane-exposed minority youth. Am J Orthop. 2014;84(4):341–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Pfefferbaum B, Jacobs AK, Jones RT, Reyes G, Wyche KF. A skill set for supporting displaced children in psychological recovery after disasters. Curr Psychiatry Rep [Internet]. 2017 Sep [cited 2018 Jan 21];19(9). Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11920-017-0814-6, 19, 60

  22. 22.

    Council on Environmental Health. Global climate change and children’s health. Pediatrics. 2015;136(5):992–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Dean JG, Stain HJ. Mental health impact for adolescents living with prolonged drought. Aust J Rural Health. 2010;18(1):32–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    •• Garcia DM, Sheehan MC. Extreme weather-driven disasters and children’s health. Int J Health Serv. 2016 Jan;46(1):79–105. This paper reviews the published literature on extreme weather-driven disasters and their health impacts on children 18 years and younger.

  25. 25.

    Goldmann E, Galea S. Mental health consequences of disasters. Annu Rev Public Health. 2014;35(1):169–83.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Alisic E, Zalta AK, van Wesel F, Larsen SE, Hafsted GS, Hassanpour K, et al. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed children and adolescents: meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry. 2014;204:335–40.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Piyasil V, Ketumarn P, Prubrukarn R, Ularntinon S, Sitdhiraksa N, Pithayaratsathien N, et al. Post-traumatic stress disorder in children after the tsunami disaster in Thailand: a 5-year follow-up. J Med Assoc Thail. 2011;94(3):138–44.

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Doctors for the Environment Australia. No time for Games: children’s health and climate change. 2015.

  29. 29.

    Fairbank JA, Putnam FW, Harris WW. Child traumatic stress: prevalence, trends, risk, and impact. In: Handbook of PTSD: science and practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press; 2014. p. 121–45.

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Faravelli C, Lo Sauro C, Godini L. Childhood stressful events, HPA axis and anxiety disorders. World J Psychiatry. 2012;2(1):13–25.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Bartlett S, Institut international pour l’environnement et le développement, Human Settlements Programme. Climate change and urban children: impacts and implications for adaptation in low—and middle-income countries. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, Human Settlements Programme; 2008.

  32. 32.

    Zivin JG, Shrader J. Temperature extremes, health, and human capital. Futur Child. 2016;26(1):31–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Epstein PR, Ferber D. Changing planet, changing health: how the climate crisis threatens our health and what we can do about it. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2011. 355 p.

  34. 34.

    Kousky C. Impacts of natural disasters on children. Futur Child. 2016;26(1):73–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Mlakar J, Korva M, Tul N, Popović M, Poljšak-Prijatelj M, Mraz J, et al. Zika virus associated with microcephaly. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(10):951–8.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Dancause KN, Laplante DP, Oremus C, Fraser S, Brunet A, King S. Disaster-related prenatal maternal stress influences birth outcomes: project ice storm. Early Hum Dev. 2011;87(12):813–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Deater-Deckard K, Mullineaux PY, Beekman C, Petrill SA, Schatschneider C, Thompson LA. Conduct problems, IQ, and household chaos: a longitudinal multi-informant study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009;50(10):1301–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Coley RL, Lynch AD, Kull M. Early exposure to environmental chaos and children’s physical and mental health. Early Child Res Q. 2015;32:94–104.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    IDMC. Global Estimates 2015: people displaced by disasters [Internet]. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre; 2015 [cited 2018 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.internal-displacement.org/library/publications/2015/global-estimates-2015-people-displaced-by-disasters/

  40. 40.

    Pfefferbaum B, Jacobs AK, Van Horn RL, Houston JB. Effects of displacement in children exposed to disasters. Curr Psychiatry Rep [Internet]. 2016 Aug [cited 2018 Feb 6];18(8). Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11920-016-0714-1, 18, 71

  41. 41.

    Hersher R. The Arctic suicides: it’s not the dark that kills you [Internet]. NPR.org. 2016 [cited 2018 Jan 28]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/21/474847921/the-arctic-suicides-its-not-the-dark-that-kills-you

  42. 42.

    Sanson AV, Wachs TD, Koller SH, Salmela-Aro K. Young people and climate change: the role of developmental science. In: Verma S, Peterson A, editors. Sustainable development goals for children: using developmental science to improve young lives globally. New York, NY: Springer; in press.

  43. 43.

    Ojala M. Young people and global climate change: emotions, coping, and engagement in everyday life. In: Ansell N, Klocker N, Skelton T, Editors. Geographies of global issues: change and threat [Internet]. Singapore: Springer Singapore; 2016. p. 329–46. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-4585-54-5_3, 2016.

  44. 44.

    Corner A, Roberts O, Chiari S, Völler S, Mayrhuber ES, Mandl S, et al. How do young people engage with climate change? The role of knowledge, values, message framing, and trusted communicators: engaging young people with climate change. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. 2015;6(5):523–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Feldman L, Nisbet MC, Leiserowitz A, Maibach E. The climate change generation? Survey analysis of the perceptions and beliefs of young Americans. Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication: Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication; 2010.

  46. 46.

    Hibberd M, Nguyen A. Climate change communications & young people in the Kingdom: a reception study. Int J Media Cult Polit. 2013;9(1):27–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    UNICEF UK. Climate change: children’s challenge [Internet]. UNICEF UK; 2013 [cited 2018 Jan 30]. Available from: https://downloads.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/unicef-climate-change-report-2013.pdf?_ga=2.115858243.495899391.1517286128-426487953.1517286128

  48. 48.

    Strife SJ. Children’s environmental concerns: expressing ecophobia. J Environ Educ. 2012;43(1):37–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Albert M, Hurrelmann K, Quenzel G, Jugend G. Eine pragmatische generation behauptet sich. (a pragmatic generation asserts itself). Frankurt am main. Germany: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Tucci J, Mitchell J, Goddard C. Children’s fears, hopes and heroes. Melbourne: Australian Childhood Foundation and the National Research Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Monash University; 2007.

  51. 51.

    Ojala M. How do children cope with global climate change? Coping strategies, engagement, and well-being. J Environ Psychol. 2012;32(3):225–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Spence A, Pidgeon N. Framing and communicating climate change: the effects of distance and outcome frame manipulations. Glob Environ Change. 2010;20(4):656–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Strazdins L, Skeat H, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Weathering the future: climate change, children and young people, and decision making [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth; 2011 [cited 2017 Dec 19]. Available from: http://www.aracy.org.au/publicationDocuments/ARACY%20climate%20change%20report%20March%202011%20FINAL%20full1.pdf

  54. 54.

    UNICEF. Voices from the climate frontlines [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2018 May 2]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJGRpZ5Y3SY

  55. 55.

    •• Ojala M. Regulating worry, promoting hope: how do children, adolescents, and young adults cope with climate change? Int J Environ Sci Educ. 2012;7(4):537–61. This paper explores how children and adolescents cope with the threat of climate change and compares different strategies.

    Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Ojala M. Coping with climate change among adolescents: implications for subjective well-being and environmental engagement. Sustainability. 2013;5(5):2191–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Ojala M. Hope in the face of climate change: associations with environmental engagement and student perceptions of teachers’ emotion communication style and future orientation. J Environ Educ. 2015;46(3):133–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Hart R, Fisher S, Kimiagar B. Beyond projects: involving children in community governance as a fundamental strategy for facing climate change. In: The challenges of climate change: children on the front line Florence: UNICEF Office of research, pp 92–97. Innocenti Insight, Florence: UNICEF Office of Research; 2014. p. 92–97.

  59. 59.

    George A. Women ocean leaders [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.sprep.org/women-ocean-leaders/andrea-george

  60. 60.

    The Portugal News. Portuguese children sue over climate change. The Portugal News Online [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Feb 6]; Available from: http://www.theportugalnews.com/news/portuguese-children-sue-over-climate-change/43570

  61. 61.

    Earth Guardians and Our Children’s Trust. Groundbreaking constitutional climate lawsuit heard today by ninth circuit court of appeals [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Jun 2]. Available from: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571d109b04426270152febe0/t/5a2f0729419202739b837643/1513031465995/17.12.11+Juliana+v+US+Press+Release.pdf

  62. 62.

    UNICEF. Unless we act now [Internet]. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund; 2015 [cited 2018 Jan 30]. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Unless_we_act_now_The_impact_of_climate_change_on_children.pdf

  63. 63.

    Schoh C, Treichel P. Child-centred climate resilience: case studies from the Philippines and Vietnam. Plan International and Save the Children; 2015.

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susie E. L. Burke.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All reported studies/experiments with human or animal subjects performed by the authors have been previously published and complied with all applicable ethical standards (including the Helsinki declaration and its amendments, institutional/national research committee standards, and international/national/institutional guidelines).

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Child and Family Disaster Psychiatry

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Burke, S.E.L., Sanson, A.V. & Van Hoorn, J. The Psychological Effects of Climate Change on Children. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20, 35 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0896-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Children
  • Adolescents
  • Psychological effects
  • Coping
  • Mental health
  • Environmental engagement