flood-impacted young people show resilience in the face of eco-anxiety

New research released today from headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation reveals that over half of Australian young people (53%) surveyed feel fearful about the future due to the impacts of climate change – a view that is shared by many young people living in disaster-hit communities.

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey found that anxiety about climate change is affecting the daily lives of 18 to 25-year-olds (22%) as well as their decisions about the future. Two in five (42%) young people surveyed were worried that they won't have access to the same opportunities their parents had as a result of climate change, and one third (34%) cited climate change as the reason they are hesitant to have children.

Over half of young people feel fearful of hte future due to climate change. 1 in 5 say climate is affecting their daily lives.

While almost half (46%) of young people were worried whether they’re doing enough to have an impact on climate change, many felt that their own individual actions might not be enough to make a difference anyway (50%).

The results shed light on the effects of climate change on the mental health and well-being of young people, particularly in the wake of catastrophic events of recent years including the Black Summer bushfires and floods in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland.

Many are worried that they won't have access to the same opportunities their parents had due to climate change. One third say climate change is the reason they are hesitant to have children.

headspace today launched a video series that shares the stories of young people who experienced the devastating 2022 floods. By sharing their journeys publicly, young people, their parents and caregivers are hoping to shed light on the experiences of young people impacted by extreme weather events, while also demonstrating their resilience and ability to get through tough times.

One of the young people who features in the series, 24-year-old Sereena Zanuso, was born and raised in Lismore. Sereena shares how she is looking after herself following the experience of the 2022 Floods and overcoming the anxiety relating to extreme weather events fuelled by climate change.

“Waking up Monday morning and hearing that the water was two metres higher than the 2017 levels… it was really hard to comprehend. It was far more extreme that it ever has been, or what we thought it could be.

“I think that the general feeling in the community was one of gut-wrenching pain. Not on just a physical and mental level, but also a spiritual level. It was our whole community – tens of thousands of people – impacted.

“Even today in 2023, there are houses that are empty, and it plays on your mind. There were people living in those homes once, and there are no longer people there. It hits very close to home.”

Sereena believes it is important for young people impacted by extreme weather events to take the time to look after themselves.

“My piece of advice for young people going through natural disasters is acknowledging that it is going to be hard. It is hard, and it will be for a long time. It is a year on, and it is still something I’m dealing with. But that’s okay. It’s a very real issue.

“Brush your hair, clean your teeth, make your bed. Take these smalls steps to make something bigger for you.”

She added: "The catchphrase of Lismore is ‘come to the heart,’ and over the past 18 months this community heart has really shone through. I feel that everyone in the community has contributed in some way to the recovery effort, whether this be through giving up their time volunteering, providing donations where needed or supporting local businesses when they were back up and running."

Almost half are worried whether they're personally doing enough to have an impact on climate change - while many feel their actions won't be eough to make a difference anyway.

headspace National Clinical Advisor Rupert Saunders said: “It is very normal for young people to feel concerned about the impacts of climate change, as they are aware that it is a global issue that will likely have a profound effect on their future.

“In some instances, young people have told us that their frustrations, stress, guilt and worry about climate change interfere with their daily lives.

“We encourage young people experiencing anxiety about climate change to find ways of building strategies for when things feel overwhelming. Taking a break from the news cycle or social media channels that can cause anxiety, talking with your friends and family about your feelings, looking after yourself by doing the things you enjoy and developing helpful habits – like eating well and exercising – are all ways young people can look after themselves when experiencing heightened emotions about climate change. 

“We also know that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking action can help you feel more in control and help things seem more manageable. Young people have the energy, willingness and influence to help make a difference – whether that’s by voting, getting involved in their community, or having conversations about climate change with family and friends – and we encourage them to do so.

“It is also important to remember that while young people can feel empowered to shape the fight against climate change, it can’t rest solely on their shoulders. Governments must heed young Australians’ call to take action against the climate crisis.”

Taking an active role in the fight against climate change can help young people feel empowered and alleviate anxiety./

To help provide a platform for conversation, headspace will host an online group chat on Thursday 14th September for young people to talk with their peers about how climate change is impacting them and share actionable ideas to making a change. The conversation will be led by mental health professionals and members of the headspace Youth National Reference Group.

Watch headspace’s After the Floods series.

Join the headspace group chat about climate change

Young people aged 12 to 25, as well as their family and friends can visit headspace for support. Help is also available via phone and online counselling service, eheadspace, seven days a week between 9am–1am (AEST). The number is 1800 650 890.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to immediately, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7.