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Research finds government inaction on climate major contributor to extreme levels of anxiety in youth

Kaitlyn Taburiaux conducted the study as part of a year three research project in the Rural Pre-Med program at Selkirk College. — Photo courtesy Youri Taburiaux

As the climate crisis intensifies, climate anxiety is becoming more common —  especially for youth — a research project by a local third-year Rural Pre-Medicine found.

The study discovered the high level of youth climate anxiety in our local area has not been known until recently.

Kaitlyn Taburiaux, as part of her third-year Rural Pre-Medicine research project conducted a survey of 100 Selkirk College students between the ages of 18 and 25. Survey questions were based on those from a landmark global study published in The Lancet in December, which surveyed 10,000 youth in 10 countries about their concerns about climate change.

The results of the study, The Most Significant Mental Health Impacts Affecting Local Youth Due to the Climate Crisis: A Study of Selkirk College Students, can be viewed clicking this link.

“Growing up in the Kootenays I have always had a great appreciation for the nature around me, so seeing the effects of the climate crisis on a local level has led me to develop climate anxiety, a mental health concern many youth are experiencing,” said Taburiaux in a media release.

“I wanted to understand the mental health impacts of the climate crisis on local youth because young people have an increased risk of developing mental health concerns during this crucial period of development.”

The study revealed that large numbers of youth respondents in the Selkirk study reported emotional distress and a wide range of complex and unpleasant emotions, with over half of respondents feeling sad, helpless, anxious, afraid, angry, and powerless because of climate change. Almost 80 percent were very or extremely worried that climate threatens people and the planet, which is considerably higher than the 60% in the global study.

Some other stark results were that 51% of respondents are hesitant to have children because of climate change, 73% think that “the future is frightening”, and 81% think that people have failed to take care of the planet.

Both the global and local studies indicated that youth believe "governments are failing young people around the world” (74% for the local study and 65% for the global study). Government inaction is impacting youth mental health as shown by the positive correlation between negative feelings about government actions and the number of negative feelings, thoughts and impacts from climate anxiety.

“The climate crisis is affecting the daily activities of local youth: eating, concentrating, working, studying, having fun, spending time on recreation, and spending time in nature,” said Taburiaux.

“When mental health concerns begin to affect the daily life of youth, it increases their chances of facing unemployment, higher poverty rates, and social isolation, and increases vulnerability to physical health conditions,” Taburiaux explained.

“Chronic stress of climate anxiety in youth can permanently change brain structure and function. Youth’s underdeveloped physiological defence systems and the accumulation of climate risks across their lifespan add to their vulnerability.”

The research study was done in collaboration with the Nelson-West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL).

“These results are very sobering,” said Laura Sacks with CCL in the media release.

“The most obvious solution is for governments to get more serious about immediate climate action at the scale the crisis warrants.”

Taburiaux and CCL members are meeting with area MPs and MLAs to discuss the study. Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan — West Kootenay, has asked for a briefing note to share with his colleagues in Parliament.

“It’s clear from this study that governments and other leaders should also meaningfully involve youth in climate decision-making so that they have some sense of agency for climate solutions,” said Sacks.