Analysis of the results published in the latest report Headway - A new roadmap in Mental Health (2023), an initiative created by Think Tank The European House – Ambrosetti in partnership with Angelini Pharma.
Eco-Anxiety surges: youth fear climate change impact, unraveling a pre-traumatic stress disorder
Eco-anxiety, a chronic fear of environmental doom, is – perhaps unsurprisingly – on the rise. Long after the quoted definition was coined by Professor Glenn Albrecht, climate change and its consequences have become a prevalent concern, especially among the younger generation. Some describe it as a pre-traumatic stress disorder, a mental illness in anticipation of impending traumatic events.
Insights on environmental challenges, youth vulnerability, and urgent policy needs
The intensity of eco-anxiety is heightened in regions directly witnessing the tangible impacts of climate change, such as the rising sea levels in Malta or recurrent wildfires in Portugal, Greece, and Cyprus. In these areas, the emotional toll is profound, significantly shaping the mental health landscape, fostering feelings of depression, anxiety, impotence, and exacerbating pre-existing mental health conditions.
Considering that the number of natural disasters and extreme weather events in Europe has grown from 91 in 1979 to 1452 in 2019, such outcomes are expected to become even more common. Indeed, 78% of Europeans agree that environmental issues directly affect their lives and health. Additionally, young adults, particularly those aged 16 to 25, seem to be especially vulnerable, with 45% reporting that eco-anxiety significantly impacts their daily lives through anxiety and distress.
But beyond its individual implications, eco-anxiety carries yet-to-be-quantified socioeconomic consequences, straining national healthcare systems and emphasizing the need for effective policies and interventions.
EU Policies falling short on mental health in climate change. Urgent call for integration and political engagement
Despite the growing body of evidence and heightened awareness regarding the significant impact of climate change on mental health, the attention given by EU policies to their interconnectedness remains limited. For instance, the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, published in 2021, emphasizes the importance of understanding the health impacts of this global emergency but still fails to explicitly mention mental health.
The imperative for a more robust integration of mental health considerations into policies related to climate change, and vice versa, is evident. Political engagement from both the EU Commission and Member States holds the potential to drive progress by establishing ambitious objectives and delivering tangible results. This commitment can instill a renewed sense of agency and optimism among European citizens, promoting active participation in a virtuous cycle of change.