Mentl Logo


Climate Change

Are you struggling with climate change distress? Eco-trauma, eco-angst, ecological grief or eco-anxiety? As our awareness of the damage done to our planet grows so does the mental health cost, research has found.

Regardless of the term used, the psychological impact can be profound, with people reporting feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, shame, hopelessness and helplessness, writes Emma Gibson and Michelle Constable, co-founders of The Behavioural Scientists.

Globally, the consensus on the climate change crisis and the impact that people are having on our planet is becoming increasingly understood, with governments focusing their efforts on technological innovations and encouraging sustainable behaviours.

As part of the work to raise awareness of the need for change, social media posts and news stories provide us with constant reminders of the climate change crisis. We witness coverage of rising sea levels, diminishing glaciers and natural disasters and global efforts to address these changes in real-time. While there is no doubt that these attempts to protect the future of our planet are crucial, there are also some aspects of the climate change crisis that are lesser known, such as the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

A growing body of research demonstrates that increasing concerns about the future of our planet can have a detrimental effect on mental health. The silent and pervasive impact of climate change on mental health has been found to particularly affect young adults and those with pre-existing mental illness, leading to increases in depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder across age groups.1,2,3 For example, in a survey of 10,000 young people across ten countries, 59 percent reported being very or extremely worried about climate change.4 In the context of extreme weather events, diminishing biodiversity and relentless information, it’s no wonder that more and more people are experiencing distress related to the state of our planet; it’s a natural response to a growing global crisis.

People report concerns over bringing children into a world with such a bleak future and diminishing resources. This can significantly affect people’s lives, with some developing maladaptive coping strategies, such as hypervigilance or, conversely, denial.

Mental Health Support Needed on Climate Change

Given this alarming trend, a policy brief from the World Health Organisation (WHO)5 recognised the impact of climate change on mental health and wellbeing. It urged countries to include mental health support in their climate action plans alongside other policy solutions. Yet, a survey from WHO in 2021 reported that out of 95 countries, only nine actioned this.5

In response to the burgeoning climate change and mental health crisis, there is an urgent need to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. This includes designing inclusive climate and mental health policies and programs and implementing initiatives to reduce vulnerabilities and inequalities.

We also need to develop context-specific strategies, foster collective action and community engagement, raise awareness and provide education on the impact of climate change on mental health.

This is where the use of psychology and behavioural science has much to offer the climate change agenda.  If we can understand how people think, feel and behave, we can develop initiatives to support them and increase the uptake of sustainable behaviours. Additionally, psychologists can develop interventions to prevent or support people experiencing mental health issues related to climate change, including resilience building, mindfulness, cognitive reframing, and seeking social support. These approaches have been demonstrated to be effective in alleviating stress and anxiety. These techniques can be particularly empowering in dealing with the slow, creeping nature of climate change and the feelings of helplessness it often engenders.  

Actionable individual strategies for individuals:

  1. Stay informed but set boundaries – constant exposure to negative news can be overwhelming; set boundaries on media consumption to manage negative affect.
  2. Engage in action – this can provide a sense of control and purpose. Engaging in community projects, advocating for policy changes or simply leading a more sustainable life can be empowering.
  3. Seek community/social support – building a community with like-minded individuals can provide emotional support.
  4. Focus on what you can control – while individual actions may seem small in the face of a global crisis, they are significant. Focusing on what you can control can help to reduce feelings of helplessness.
  5. Get active – Switch driving for more active transport such as walking or cycling; not only can this reduce greenhouse gases, but it can also be beneficial for mental health!
  6. Professional support – in cases where it becomes too overwhelming, seeking support from mental health professionals can be beneficial and provide coping strategies.

As we confront the realities of climate change, the role of behavioural science in addressing its mental health impacts cannot be overstated by understanding the psychological effects of climate change, building resilience, implementing supportive policies, and fostering hope, we can equip individuals and communities to not only survive but thrive in the face of this global challenge. The task is monumental, but we can create meaningful change through a concerted effort that combines science, policy, and community engagement.


  1. Charlson, F., S. Ali, T. Benmarhnia, M. Pearl, A. Massazza, J. Augustinavicius, and J. G. Scott. Climate change and mental health: a scoping review. Int J Environ Res Public Health 18, no. 9 (n.d.). doi: 10.3390/ijerph18094486.
  • Cianconi, Paolo, Sophia Betrò, Francesco Grillo, Batul Hanife, and Luigi Janiri. Climate shift and mental health adjustment. CNS Spectrums 26, no. 1 (2020), 5-6.
  • Van Nieuwenhuizen, Adrienne, Kelsey Hudson, Xiaoxuan Chen, and Alison R. Hwong. The Effects of Climate Change on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Clinical Considerations. Current Psychiatry Reports 23, no. 12 (2021).

    • Benoit, Laelia, Isaiah Thomas, and Andrés Martin. Review: Ecological awareness, anxiety, and actions among youth and their parents – a qualitative study of newspaper narratives. Child and Adolescent Mental Health 27, no. 1 (2021), 47-58. doi:10.1111/camh.12514.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). Mental health and climate change: policy brief. Last modified June 3, 2022.