Skip to main content

The Effects of Climate Change on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Clinical Considerations

Abstract

Purpose of Review

We review recent literature on the effects of climate change on child and adolescent mental health and discuss treatment and engagement by clinicians.

Recent Findings

Climate change affects child and adolescent mental health in many intersecting ways, including as a social and ecological determinant of health, a threat amplifier, and a source of trauma and distress. Single extreme weather events contribute to significant negative mental health consequences; however, subacute and chronic climate events also have mental health sequelae. Furthermore, awareness of the climate crisis is associated with emotional distress. Young people with pre-existing mental illness and lacking social support may be at elevated risk for climate change-related mental health effects. Climate activism is associated with resilience and positive development, but may also be a source of increased stress, particularly for marginalized youths.

Summary

Climate change can affect the mental health of children and adolescents in complex and diverse ways. Sources of coping and resilience also vary greatly between individuals. Mental health clinicians must respond to this existential crisis by addressing research gaps in this area, obtaining relevant clinical training, educating their communities, and joining and supporting young people in their advocacy efforts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

Papers of particular interest, published recently, havebeen highlighted as: •• Of major importance.

  1. Introcaso D. Health affairs blog [Internet] 2018. [cited 2021 June 29]. Available from: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi.org/10.1377/hblog20181218.278288/full/

  2. Watts N, Amann M, Arnell N, Ayeb-Karlsson S, Belesova K, Boykoff M, et al. The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate. Lancet. 2019;394(10211):1836–78.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Ceballos G, Ehrlich PR, Raven PH. Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2020;117(24):13596–602.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  4. Allen M, Antwi-Agyei P, Aragon-Durand F, Babiker M, Bertoldi P, Bind M, Brown S, Buckeridge M, Camilloni I, Cartwright A, Cramer W. Technical Summary: Global warming of 1.5 °C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

  5. IPCC. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2021.

  6. Hellden D, Andersson C, Nilsson M, Ebi KL, Friberg P, Alfven T. Climate change and child health: a scoping review and an expanded conceptual framework. Lancet Planet Health. 2021;5(3):e164–75.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Burke SEL, Sanson AV, Van Hoorn J. The psychological effects of climate change on children. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018;20(5):35.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Majeed H, Lee J. The impact of climate change on youth depression and mental health. Lancet Planet Health. 2017;1(3):e94–5.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Barkin JL, Buoli M, Curry CL, von Esenwein SA, Upadhyay S, Kearney MB, et al. Effects of extreme weather events on child mood and behavior. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2021;63(7):785–90.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. •• Clemens V, von Hirschhausen E, Fegert JM. Report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change: implications for the mental health policy of children and adolescents in Europe—a scoping review. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020 Aug 26:1-3. This scoping review outlines four pathways through which climate change affects child and adolescent mental health, specific risk factors for increased vulnerability, and the importance of active coping.

  11. Ragavan MI, Marcil LE, Garg A. Climate change as a social determinant of health. Pediatrics. 2020;145(5).

  12. Foundation WHOaCG. Social determinants of mental health. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2014.

  13. •• Gislason MK, Kennedy AM, Witham SM. The interplay between social and ecological determinants of mental health for children and youth in the climate crisis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(9). In this article, the authors used a thematic analysis and identified social and ecological determinants of the impact of climate change on child and adolescent mental health.

  14. King AD, Harrington LJ. The inequality of climate change from 1.5 to 2°C of global warming. Geophys Res Lett. 2018;45(10):5030–3.

  15. Klein N. Let Them Drown. 2016.

  16. Xu W, Yuan G, Liu Z, Zhou Y, An Y. Prevalence and predictors of PTSD and depression among adolescent victims of the Summer 2016 tornado in Yancheng City. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 2018;32(5):777–81.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Adeback P, Schulman A, Nilsson D. Children exposed to a natural disaster: psychological consequences eight years after 2004 tsunami. Nord J Psychiatry. 2018;72(1):75–81.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. An Y, Huang J, Chen Y, Deng Z. Longitudinal cross-lagged relationships between posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in adolescents following the Yancheng tornado in China. Psychol Trauma. 2019;11(7):760–6.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Orengo-Aguayo R, Stewart RW, de Arellano MA, Suárez-Kindy JL, Young J. Disaster exposure and mental health among puerto rican youths after Hurricane Maria. JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(4):e192619-e.

  20. Bryant RA, Creamer M, O’Donnell M, Forbes D, Felmingham KL, Silove D, et al. Separation from parents during childhood trauma predicts adult attachment security and post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychol Med. 2017;47(11):2028–35.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Danielson CK, Sumner JA, Adams ZW, McCauley JL, Carpenter M, Amstadter AB, et al. Adolescent substance use following a deadly U.S. tornado outbreak: a population-based study of 2,000 families. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2017;46(5):732–45.

  22. Hicks TA, Bountress KE, Resnick HS, Ruggiero KJ, Amstadter AB. Caregiver support buffers posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms following a natural disaster in relation to binge drinking. Psychol Trauma. 2020.

  23. Younan D, Li L, Tuvblad C, Wu J, Lurmann F, Franklin M, et al. Long-term ambient temperature and externalizing behaviors in adolescents. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(9):1931–41.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. Vida S, Durocher M, Ouarda TB, Gosselin P. Relationship between ambient temperature and humidity and visits to mental health emergency departments in Québec. Psychiatr Serv. 2012;63(11):1150–3.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Parks RM, Bennett JE, Tamura-Wicks H, Kontis V, Toumi R, Danaei G, et al. Anomalously warm temperatures are associated with increased injury deaths. Nat Med. 2020;26(1):65–70.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. Zuromski KL, Resnick H, Price M, Galea S, Kilpatrick DG, Ruggiero K. Suicidal ideation among adolescents following natural disaster: the role of prior interpersonal violence. Psychol Trauma. 2019;11(2):184–8.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Dumont C, Haase E, Dolber T, Lewis J, Coverdale J. Climate change and risk of completed suicide. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2020;208(7):559–65.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Hanigan IC, Butler CD, Kokic PN, Hutchinson MF. Suicide and drought in New South Wales, Australia, 1970–2007. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(35):13950–5.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. Carleton TA. Crop-damaging temperatures increase suicide rates in India. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2017;114(33):8746.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. Olson DM, Metz GAS. Climate change is a major stressor causing poor pregnancy outcomes and child development. F1000Res. 2020;9.

  31. Ha S, Liu D, Zhu Y, Soo Kim S, Sherman S, Grantz KL, et al. Ambient temperature and stillbirth: a multi-center retrospective cohort study. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125(6):067011.

  32. Barreca A, Schaller J. The impact of high ambient temperatures on delivery timing and gestational lengths. Nat Clim Chang. 2020;10(1):77–82.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Cassiano RGM, Provenzi L, Linhares MBM, Gaspardo CM, Montirosso R. Does preterm birth affect child temperament? A meta-analytic study. Infant Behav Dev. 2020;58:101417.

  34. •• Malaspina D, Howell EA, Spicer J. Intergenerational echoes of climate change. JAMA Psychiat. 2020;77(8):778–80. This viewpoint article reviews associations between excessive maternal ambient heat exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes, particularly psychiatric outcomes.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Isen A, Rossin-Slater M, Walker R. Relationship between season of birth, temperature exposure, and later life wellbeing. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2017;114(51):13447.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. Kalverdijk LJ, Bachmann CJ, Aagaard L, et al. A multi-national comparison of antipsychotic drug use in children and adolescents, 2005–2012. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2017;11:55.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. A climate of anxiety. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2021;5(2):91.

  38. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association. Stress in America: generation Z. Stress in America Survey. 2018 Oct;11.

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

  40. •• Stanley SK, Hogg TL, Leviston Z, Walker I. From anger to action: differential impacts of eco-anxiety, eco-depression, and eco-anger on climate action and wellbeing. The Journal of Climate Change and Health. 2021;1:100003. This article examines the association between eco-emotions (i.e., eco-anger, eco-anxiety, and eco-depression), pro-climate activism, and well-being in an adult sample. The authors found that eco-anger predicted better mental health outcomes and greater engagement in pro-climate activism and personal behaviors whereas eco-anxiety and eco-depression were less adaptive and were related to lower wellbeing.

  41. Albrecht G, Sartore GM, Connor L, Higginbotham N, Freeman S, Kelly B, et al. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australas Psychiatry. 2007;15(Suppl 1):S95–8.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Pihkala P. Climate Anxiety. Helsinki. 2019.

  43. Eckstein D KV, Schafer L. Global climate risk index. 2021.

  44. Atherton R. Climate anxiety: survey for BBC Newsround shows children losing sleep over climate change and the environment. https://www.bbcc.ouk/newsround/514517372020.

  45. Chiw A, Ling HS. Young people of Australia and climate change: Perceptions and concerns. Millennium Kids. 2019.

  46. Hamel L, Lopes L, Muñana C, Brodie M. The Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post Climate Change Survey. 2019. https://www.kff.org/.

  47. Carlson JM, Kaull H, Steinhauer M, Zigarac A, Cammarata J. Paying attention to climate change: positive images of climate change solutions capture attention. J Environ Psychol. 2020;71.

  48. •• Lee K, Gjersoe N, O’Neill S, Barnett J. Youth perceptions of climate change: a narrative synthesis. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. 2020;11(3):e641. This article synthesizes literature relating to 8-19-year-old's perceptions and understanding of climate change. The authors examine reported beliefs and concerns about climate change as well as perceptions of viable solutions and opinions of responsibility for implementing solutions.

  49. Little B. Our world our say: Young Australians speak up on climate change and disaster risk. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, The. 2020 Oct;35(4):19-20.

  50. Tysiachniouk MS, Horowitz LS, Korkina VV, Petrov AN. Indigenous-led grassroots engagements with oil pipelines in the U.S. and Russia: the NoDAPL and Komi movements. Environmental Politics. 2020:1–23.

  51. Ojala M, Bengtsson H. Young people’s coping strategies concerning climate change: relations to perceived communication with parents and friends and proenvironmental behavior. Environ Behav. 2019;51(8):907–35.

    Google Scholar 

  52. •• Mah AYJ, Chapman DA, Markowitz EM, Lickel B. Coping with climate change: three insights for research, intervention, and communication to promote adaptive coping to climate change. Journal of anxiety disorders. 2020;75:102282. This article integrates literature across multiple fields to provide insights for researchers and physicians to communicate about climate-related stress. The authors review interventions to promote adaptive coping with climate change stress for a variety of ages.

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

    Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  55. Beardsworth A, Bryman A. Meat consumption and meat avoidance among young people: an 11-year longitudinal study. Br Food J. 2004.

  56. Kieu TK, Singer J. Youth organizations’ promotion of education for sustainable development competencies: a case study. European Journal of Sustainable Development. 2020;9(4):376.

    Google Scholar 

  57. O’Brien K, Selboe E, Hayward BM. Exploring youth activism on climate change: dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. Ecol Soc. 2018;23(3):42.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Venhoeven LA, Bolderdijk JW, Steg L. Explaining the paradox: how pro-environmental behaviour can both thwart and foster well-being. Sustainability. 2013;5(4):1372–86.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Wray-Lake L, DeHaan CR, Shubert J, Ryan RM. Examining links from civic engagement to daily well-being from a self-determination theory perspective. J Posit Psychol. 2019;14(2):166–77.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Zaff JF, Kawashima-Ginsberg K, Lin ES, Lamb M, Balsano A, Lerner RM. Developmental trajectories of civic engagement across adolescence: disaggregation of an integrated construct. J Adolesc. 2011;34(6):1207–20.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. Zaff J, Boyd M, Li Y, Lerner JV, Lerner RM. Active and engaged citizenship: multi-group and longitudinal factorial analysis of an integrated construct of civic engagement. J Youth Adolesc. 2010;39(7):736–50.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Lerner RM, Lerner JV, Bowers EP, Geldhof GJ. Positive youth development and relational-developmental-systems. 2015.

  63. Ballard PJ, Hoyt LT, Pachucki MC. Impacts of adolescent and young adult civic engagement on health and socioeconomic status in adulthood. Child Dev. 2019;90(4):1138–54.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Dolan P. Travelling through social support and youth civic action on a journey towards resilience. The social ecology of resilience: Springer; 2012. p. 357–66.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Conner J, Rosen SM. Contemporary youth activism: advancing social justice in the United States: advancing social justice in the United States: ABC-CLIO. 2016.

  66. •• Sanson A, Bellemo M. Children and youth in the climate crisis. BJPsych bulletin. 2021:1–5. This editorial, co-written by a developmental psychologist and a young climate activist, comments on the current literature related to the impacts of the climate crisis on youth mental health, with an emphasis on how youths perceive the psychological impact of climate activism. It concludes with several concrete suggestions for health professionals.

  67. Bandura A, Cherry L. Enlisting the power of youth for climate change. American Psychologist. 2019.

  68. Christens BD, Peterson NA, Reid RJ, Garcia-Reid P. Adolescents’ perceived control in the sociopolitical domain: a latent class analysis. Youth & Society. 2015;47(4):443–61.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Christens BD, Peterson NA. The role of empowerment in youth development: a study of sociopolitical control as mediator of ecological systems’ influence on developmental outcomes. J Youth Adolesc. 2012;41(5):623–35.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  70. Boehnke K, Wong B. Adolescent political activism and long-term happiness: a 21-year longitudinal study on the development of micro-and macrosocial worries. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2011;37(3):435–47.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. Ballard PJ, Ozer EJ. The implications of youth activism for health and well-being. Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States. 2016 Sep 26:223-44.

  72. Miller KK, Shramko M, Brown C, Svetaz MV. The election is over, now what? Youth civic engagement as a path to critical consciousness. J Adolesc Health. 2021;68(2):233–5.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  73. Pimentel J, Bernucca C, Khal, Clark KL, Logan M. 32 Young activists who are changing the world. 2020.

  74. Precht-Rodriguez Z. Human Rights in the ‘Green New Deal’Narrative: Grassroots Climate Activism and Constructions of Human Rights in ‘Creative Social Praxis’ (2019) (Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University).

  75. Kahn B. Greta Thunberg, 15 kids sue five countries in groundbreaking climate lawsuit. 2019.

  76. Taylor M, Holden E, Colyns D, Standaert M, Kssam A. The young people taking their countries to court over climate inaction. 2021.

  77. •• Pinsky E, Guerrero APS, Livingston R. Our house is on fire: child and adolescent psychiatrists in the era of the climate crisis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020;59(5):580–2. This concise review summarizes the effects of climate change on child and adolescent mental health and highlights the critical role of child and adolescent psychiatrists in addressing this crisis.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. Wu J, Snell G, Samji H. Climate anxiety in young people: a call to action. Lancet Planet Health. 2020;4(10):e435–6.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  79. Coverdale J, Balon R, Beresin EV, Brenner AM, Guerrero APS, Louie AK, et al. Climate change: a call to action for the psychiatric profession. Acad Psychiatry. 2018;42(3):317–23.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. Berry HL, Waite TD, Dear KBG, Capon AG, Murray V. The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health. Nature Climate Change: Nature Publishing Group; 2018. p. 282–90.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Brymer M, Layne C, Jacobs A, Pynoos R, Ruzek J, Steinberg A, Vernberg E, Watson P. Psychological first aid field operations guide. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. 2006 Jul.

  82. Cohen JA, Mannarino AP, Deblinger E. Treating trauma and traumatic grief in children and adolescents. Guilford Publications; 2016 Dec 30.

  83. Ehrenreich-May J, Kennedy S, sherman j, Bilek E, Buzzella B, Bennett S, et al. Unified protocols for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders in children and adolescents. 2018.

  84. Abel MR, Vernberg EM, Lochman JE, McDonald KL, Jarrett MA, Hendrickson ML, et al. Co-reminiscing with a caregiver about a devastating tornado: association with adolescent anxiety symptoms. J Fam Psychol. 2020;34(7):846–56.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  85. Xu W, Jiang H, Zhou Y, Zhou L, Fu H. Intrusive rumination, deliberate rumination, and posttraumatic growth among adolescents after a tornado: the role of social support. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2019;207(3):152–6.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  86. Swain K. Children’s picture books in an age of climate anxiety. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 2020;4(9):650–1.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Adrienne van Nieuwenhuizen was supported by the R25 MH060482 grant; Xiaoxuan Chen was supported by the Schoeneman grant.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adrienne van Nieuwenhuizen.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Child and Adolescent Disorders

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

van Nieuwenhuizen, A., Hudson, K., Chen, X. et al. The Effects of Climate Change on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Clinical Considerations. Curr Psychiatry Rep 23, 88 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-021-01296-y

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-021-01296-y

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Mental health
  • Youth
  • Child
  • Adolescent
  • Activism