As we approach the end of a winter with highly unpredictable weather — including the huge snowstorm in our hometown of Evergreen, Colorado last week — we were especially interested to see a recent study on how climate change affects youth mental health.

The study released by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica late last year concluded that climate change and extreme weather change should be considered among the many factors threatening the mental health of children and youth at this time.

Certainly, young people are dealing with unprecedented societal challenges (the aftermath of COVID-19, gun violence, economic uncertainty and inequality, the impact of social media, etc.) that are contributing to the increase in anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and other mental health conditions among children and teenagers. According to the Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Children and Youth Report 2023, the increase in extreme weather due to climate change should also be considered as we look at the state of our children’s mental health and well-being.

“The acute impacts of climate change, such as weather disasters, can cause trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in the short term, and many longer-term mental health challenges in the absence of proper interventions. Meanwhile, “longer-term impacts of climate change, such as heat, drought, and poor air quality can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, cognitive function impairment, interpersonal aggression, and other mental health impacts.”

The report cites growing research showing that extreme weather events can interrupt normal fetal development and lead to a greater risk of anxiety or depressive disorder, ADHD, educational deficits, and lower levels of self-control, as well as psychiatric disorders later in life. Furthermore, according to the report, “climate change deepens the existing unequal burdens faced by some children from communities that have been marginalized (because of race, economic status, etc.). Such communities are more likely to be exposed to extreme weather and have fewer personal and economic resources for coping. Vulnerable populations include Indigenous communities and communities of color, women, people living with disabilities, individuals with pre-existing mental health diagnoses, older adults, and outdoor workers.”

In short, climate change exacerbates many of the existing societal challenges that are putting the mental health of young people at risk.

For clinicians specializing in the field of trauma, being aware of, and understanding how climate change may be impacting the mental health of our clients is critical as we look to the future and continuing changes in our environment.

Read the full report for valuable tools and strategies for supporting children and young people who may be coping with climate-related issues. Click here to download the full report.