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Abstract and Figures

A growing body of research has documented the phenomenon of climate change anxiety (CCA), defined broadly as negative cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses associated with concerns about climate change. A recently validated scale of CCA indicated two subscales: cognitive emotional impairment and functional impairment (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020). However, there are few empirical studies on CCA to date and little evidence regarding whether CCA is associated with psychiatric symptoms, including symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and whether engaging in individual and collective action to address climate change could buffer such relationships. This mixed methods study draws on data collected from a sample of emerging adult students (ages 18–35) in the United States (N = 284) to address these gaps. Results indicated that both CCA subscales were significantly associated with GAD symptoms, while only the Functional Impairment subscale was associated with higher MDD symptoms. Moreover, engaging in collective action, but not individual action, significantly attenuated the association between CCA cognitive emotional impairment and MDD symptoms. Responses to open-ended questions asking about participants’ worries and actions related to climate change indicated the severity of their worries and, for some, a perception of the insignificance of their actions relative to the enormity of climate change. These results further the field’s understanding of CCA, both in general and specifically among emerging adults, and suggest the importance of creating opportunities for collective action to build sense of agency in addressing climate change.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
1 3
Current Psychology
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-022-02735-6
Climate change anxiety andmental health: Environmental activism
asbuffer
SarahE.O.Schwartz1 · LaeliaBenoit2,3,4· SusanClayton5· McKennaF.Parnes1· LanceSwenson1· SarahR.Lowe6
Accepted: 16 January 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2022
Abstract
A growing body of research has documented the phenomenon of climate change anxiety (CCA), defined broadly as nega-
tive cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses associated with concerns about climate change. A recently validated
scale of CCA indicated two subscales: cognitive emotional impairment and functional impairment (Clayton & Karazsia,
2020). However, there are few empirical studies on CCA to date and little evidence regarding whether CCA is associated
with psychiatric symptoms, including symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
(GAD), and whether engaging inindividual and collective actionto address climate change could buffer such relationships.
This mixed methods study draws on data collected from a sample of emerging adult students (ages 18–35) in the United
States (N = 284) to address these gaps. Results indicated thatboth CCA subscales were significantly associated with GAD
symptoms, while only the Functional Impairment subscale was associated with higher MDD symptoms. Moreover, engag-
ing in collective action, but not individual action, significantly attenuated the association between CCA cognitive emotional
impairment and MDD symptoms. Responses to open-ended questions asking about participants’ worries and actions related
to climate change indicated the severity of their worries and, for some, a perception of the insignificance of their actions
relative to the enormity of climate change. These results further the field’s understanding of CCA, both in general and spe-
cifically among emerging adults, and suggest the importance of creating opportunities for collective action to build sense of
agency in addressing climate change.
Keywords Climate change· Anxiety· Depression· Activism· Agency· Emerging adults
Introduction
Increasing evidence indicates that climate change will have
far-reaching impacts on human health, including mental
health (Doherty & Clayton, 2011; Hayes etal., 2018). A
large body of literature has investigated the mental health
consequences of one marker of climate change, weather-
related disasters, showing elevated rates of common psy-
chiatric conditions like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (Goldmann &
Galea, 2014; Hrabok etal., 2020), and a growing number
of studies also suggest that rising temperatures can impair
mental health and increase risk for suicidal behavior (Burke
etal., 2018; Cianconi etal., 2020; Heo etal., 2021). How-
ever, a focus on weather-related disasters and temperature
misses the full range of climate change exposures, including
its subtler indicators, and their mental health consequences.
Recent research indicates that even the existential threat
of climate change may be associated with adverse mental
* Sarah E. O. Schwartz
seoschwartz@suffolk.edu
1 Department ofPsychology, Suffolk University, Boston, MA,
USA
2 Child Study Center, QUALab, Yale School ofMedicine,
NewHaven, CT, USA
3 Inserm U1018, CESP, Team DevPsy, University
Paris-Saclay, Villejuif, France
4 Maison de Solenn, Hospital Cochin AP-HP, Paris, France
5 Department ofPsychology, College ofWooster, Wooster,
OH, USA
6 Department ofSocial andBehavioral Sciences, Yale School
ofPublic Health, NewHaven, CT, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... The most consistent support for this proposition comes from studies that tend to report positive associations between eco-anxiety and aspects of ill-being such as anxiety, depression, stress, pathological worry, and general psychological distress, though variability in this pattern of findings has emerged (ranging from r = -.05 to r = .59; Clayton & Karazsia, 2020;Feather & Williams, 2022;Helm et al., 2018;Hogg et al., 2021;Mouguiama-Daouda et al., 2022;Reyes et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Stanley et al., 2021;Stewart, 2021;Verplanken et al., 2020;Verplanken & Roy, 2013;Wullenkord et al., 2021). These correlations are unsurprising given that the content of eco-anxiety measures, especially those capturing more severe symptoms (e.g., Clayton & Karazsia, 2020;Hogg et al., 2021), are often based on or overlap with ill-being scales (McBride et al., 2021;Ojala et al., 2021). ...
... Despite some evidence that eco-anxiety is related with poorer mental health, there is also research highlighting its more adaptive nature, as demonstrated by its relationships with aspects of a pro-environmental orientation. More specifically, eco-anxiety (regardless of severity) tends to be positively associated with predictors and measures of pro-environmental intentions and behaviour, though some variability in this pattern of findings is present (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020;Helm et al., 2018;Hogg et al., 2021;Mouguiama-Daouda et al., 2022;Ojala et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Stanley et al., 2021;Verplanken et al., 2020;Verplanken & Roy, 2013;Wullenkord et al., 2021). 2 These findings suggest that eco-anxiety may be largely viewed as a form of practical anxiety (i.e., a motivating response that facilitates behavioural engagement; Kurth, 2018;Pihkala, 2020a) rather than a form of eco-paralysis (i.e., a demotivating response that hinders action; Albrecht, 2011). ...
... In first comparing measures of eco-anxiety, we observed that, across all studies, mean scores were above the respective scale midpoints, except on the Verplanken and Roy (2013) measure in Study 3 and Clayton and Karazsia's (2020) CCAS collected in Study 5 in which mean scores were below the scale midpoint. These findings are consistent with previous research using the CCAS (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020;Feather & Williams, 2022;Reyes et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Wullenkord et al., 2021). ...
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... Thirteen focused on understanding the interplay between climaterelated concerns and other negative emotions, with aspects of mental health such as psychological distress, depression and wellbeing, but also hope, and coping mechanisms (El Zoghbi & El Ansari, 2014;Kerret et al., 2020;Li & Monroe, 2017;MacDonald et al., 2015;Ogunbode et al., 2021;Ojala, 2005Ojala, , 2012aOjala, , 2012bOjala, , 2013Reyes et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Sciberras & Fernando, 2022;Stevenson & Peterson, 2015). One clinical case report focused on climate change-related psychotic features (Wolf & Salo, 2008). ...
... Studies examined a range of negative emotions, mental health outcomes, and coping strategies related to the threat of climate change (Table 3). Most studies focused on worry, concern or anxiety (Agho et al., 2010;Davis et al., 2019;El Zoghbi & El Ansari, 2014;Henker et al., 1995;Hickman et al., 2021;Li & Monroe, 2017;Ojala, 2005Ojala, , 2012aOjala, , 2012bOrr et al., 2020;Reyes et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Sciberras & Fernando, 2022;Simon et al., 2022;Strife, 2012;Wachholz et al., 2014). Five studies included a range of different negative emotions such as anger, stress, sadness and boredom (Hickman et al., 2021;MacDonald et al., 2015;Ogunbode et al., 2021;Scafuto, 2021;Searle & Gow, 2010;Stevenson & Peterson, 2015), while one investigated self-described feelings (Strife, 2012). ...
... Seven studies evaluated psychological symptoms, namely depression, anxiety, stress, and distress using validated psychometric scales (Agho et al., 2010;Ojala, 2012b;Reyes et al., 2021;Schwartz et al., 2022;Sciberras & Fernando, 2022;Searle & Gow, 2010;Wolf & Salo, 2008). One study conducted a survey with Swedish young people (n = 293) and found that negative affect measured by the Child Depression Scale was positively correlated with problem-solving coping, but negatively correlated with meaning-focused coping. ...
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... According to the results of the research conducted by Kamenidou et al. (2019), global warming and air pollution seem to be the most pressing problems, because they can lead to the extinction of species or the appearance of serious diseases. In this sense, there are recent studies (Bailey et al., 2022;Schwartz et al., 2022) linking environmental events such as temperature extremes, air pollution, flooding, and sea level rise to various mental health issues, including difficulties in social relationships, anxiety, depression (Reyes et al., 2021), recorded especially among young people. Air pollution and food safety concerns increased also the awareness of environmental issues for Generation Z consumers in Taiwan (Chen et al., 2018). ...
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... Collective action, on the other hand, offered participants a sense of empowerment, community, and hope. Indeed, collective action may be more effective than individual action for decreasing psychological symptoms associated with climate change [12]. ...
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... 4. Practising communal care -Organising is a process of healing that can help support mental health maintenance. 88 In this challenging era of pandemic, climate catastrophe, and war, on top of the individual stress and anxiety caused by academic institutions and global health labour, spaces of solidarity and care are needed. A collective can be a space of safety, healing, venting and support as much as it is about resistance or education. ...
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... Addressing young people's anxieties about climate change means taking action. Schwartz et al found that collective action may be more effective than individual action for decreasing psychological symptoms associated with climate change (9). Participants in our study described how an emphasis on individual action could leave them feeling helpless and hopeless. ...
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Climate change is a contributor to extreme weather events and natural disasters. The mental health effects of climate change are multifaceted, with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression predominant. This paper aims to describe the impact of climate change on mental health conditions, including risk and protective factors related to the expression of mental health conditions post-disaster, as well as a discussion of our local experience with a devastating wildfire to our region within Canada. The risk of the development of mental health conditions post-disaster is not equally distributed; research has consistently demonstrated that specific risk factors (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status and education, pre-existing mental health symptomatology), are associated with increased vulnerability to mental health conditions following natural disasters. There are multiple strategies that must be undertaken by communities to enhance adjustment and coping post-disaster, including improved access to care, inter-agency cooperation, enhanced community resiliency, and adequate preparation.
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Fully qualitative surveys, which prioritise qualitative research values, and harness the rich potential of qualitative data, have much to offer qualitative researchers, especially given online delivery options. Yet the method remains underutilised, and there is little in the way of methodological discussion of qualitative surveys. Underutilisation and limited methodological discussion perhaps reflect the dominance of interviewing in qualitative research, and (misplaced) assumptions about qualitative survey data lacking depth. By discussing our experiences of developing online surveys as a tool for qualitative research, we seek to challenge preconceptions about qualitative surveys, and to demonstrate that qualitative surveys are an exciting, flexible method with numerous applications, and advantages for researchers and participants alike. We offer an overview and practical design information, illustrated with examples from some of our studies.