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Young Persons’ Psychological Responses, Mental Health and Sense of Agency for the Dual Challenges of Climate Change and a Global Pandemic

22 Pages Posted: 26 May 2021

See all articles by Emma Lawrance

Emma Lawrance

Imperial College London - Institute of Global Health Innovation

Neil Jennings

Imperial College London - Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment

Vasiliki Kioupi

Imperial College London - Centre for Environmental Policy

Rhiannon Thompson

Imperial College London - School of Public Health

James Diffey

Imperial College London - Institute of Global Health Innovation

Ans Vercammen

Imperial College London - Centre for Environmental Policy

More...

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are both significant and pressing global challenges, posing threats to public health and wellbeing. Young people represent a particularly vulnerable group to the distress both crises appear to engender, but we currently lack an understanding of the varied psychological responses to both issues, and their links with mental health conditions and feelings of agency. 

Methods: We conducted an online survey in August - October 2020 targeting a diverse sample of young people (16–24 years, N=530) in the United Kingdom. 

Findings: While UK youth reported more life disruption and concern for their future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change was associated with significantly greater distress overall, particularly for individuals with low levels of generalised anxiety. COVID-19 was more associated with feelings of anxiety, isolation, disconnection, and frustration; distress around loss and grief; and effects on quality of life. Climate change was more likely to evoke interest and engagement, guilt, shame, anger, and disgust; and distress associated with guilt, feeling responsible and media coverage. Agency to address climate change was associated with greater climate distress, but COVID-related distress and agency were unrelated. 

Interpretation: COVID-19 and climate change are affecting the wellbeing of young people in distinct ways, with implications for health service, policy and research responses. There is a need for mental health practitioners and policy makers to account for the complex relationship between climate agency, distress and mental wellbeing in young people. 

Funding: Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London.

Declaration of Interests: We declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethics Approval Statement: The study was reviewed and received approval from the Imperial College London Science, Engineering, & Technology Research Ethics Committee (SETREC; approval number 20IC6060).

Keywords: COVID-19, climate crisis, climate action, eco-anxiety, anxiety, resilience, emotional well-being

Suggested Citation

Lawrance, Emma and Jennings, Neil and Kioupi, Vasiliki and Thompson, Rhiannon and Diffey, James and Vercammen, Ans, Young Persons’ Psychological Responses, Mental Health and Sense of Agency for the Dual Challenges of Climate Change and a Global Pandemic. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3847782 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3847782

Emma Lawrance (Contact Author)

Imperial College London - Institute of Global Health Innovation

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, Greater London SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

Neil Jennings

Imperial College London - Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

Vasiliki Kioupi

Imperial College London - Centre for Environmental Policy

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

Rhiannon Thompson

Imperial College London - School of Public Health

London
United Kingdom

James Diffey

Imperial College London - Institute of Global Health Innovation

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

Ans Vercammen

Imperial College London - Centre for Environmental Policy

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

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