May 30, 2023

Advocates in Action: How Climate Change Quietly Affects Our Mental Health

Sarah Newman sitting at table on balcony

"Opportunity lies in how you can channel climate anxiety into climate action."  Sarah Newman


In the midst of grappling with the urgent challenges of climate change, there's a crisis that often remains hidden, yet steadily takes its toll: the impact on our mental health.


We had the privilege of sitting down with Sarah Newman, the founder of the Climate Mental Health Network, to shed light on this pressing issue. In the conversation, Sarah reveals the profound connection between climate change and our wellbeing, particularly among young people. 


Whether you're a concerned global citizen, a parent, or simply seeking to understand this lesser-known consequence, read the full interview to learn more about how you can turn climate anxiety into climate action.




Tell us about the Climate Mental Health Network and its mission?

Climate Mental Health Network is an organization that is particularly focused on addressing the mental health impacts of the climate crisis on young people. Research shows that young people, more than any other age group, disproportionately experience and struggle with a range of mental health issues due to the climate crisis, ranging from anxiety to depression and grief. Our programming takes an intergenerational, holistic approach to engage with youth. We have programs with K-12 public school teachers, resources for parents and caregivers, and programming and resources specifically tailored for young people. The vision and direction of our organization are greatly influenced by our Gen Z advisory board, whose leadership and work inspire and inform our initiatives.


What led you to focus on the intersection between climate change and mental health? How did you notice the profound impact on youth?

I started the organization because I was personally struggling with climate emotions, experiencing anxiety, grief, and a range of emotions associated with the climate crisis. When I looked for resources, I realized there was a significant gap in available support. I recognized that many people, like myself, were searching for interventions and support but lacked the time, resources, or privilege to find them. This realization, coupled with research findings that revealed high levels of fear and concern among young people regarding the future and the environment, motivated me to start the organization. The mental health issues faced by Gen Zers and their responses to climate-related challenges, as highlighted in research, further emphasized the need to address this crisis and informed the vision and work of the Climate Mental Health Network.


What are some of the key mental health challenges that individuals and communities face as a result of climate change?

There are multiple layers to this issue. First, individuals directly impacted by the climate crisis, such as extreme weather events, experience mental health challenges due to displacement, injuries, and loss of homes. Second, individuals who follow climate news and are aware of the crisis may face anxiety, fear, and despair. These emotions can arise both from direct experiences and from empathizing with the global impact of climate change. Additionally, individuals already dealing with mental health challenges arising from poverty, economic insecurity, violence, or discrimination face compounded difficulties when climate-related issues are added to the mix.


What are some notable achievements or success stories of the Climate Mental Health Network in promoting climate mental health resilience and support?

One achievement I'm proud of is elevating and centering the voices of young people through our Gen Z advisory board. We also produced a short documentary film called "Gen Z Mental Health Climate Stories," directed by a Gen Zer named Teya Jeanette. The film features Gen Zers from around the world sharing their climate emotions, their impact on life choices, and self-care practices. This film has been instrumental in destigmatizing climate-related mental health issues and reassuring individuals that they are not alone. Our Gen Zers play a crucial role in shaping our work, and we support their leadership and initiatives. Another impactful aspect of our work is collaborating with K-12 educators to integrate climate mental health into the curriculum, ensuring that young people have the tools and resources to navigate climate-related emotions.


What would you say to someone who is experiencing climate anxiety or climate dread?

You should not feel any shame or guilt for experiencing these emotions. They are completely normal. It's important to recognize that. Now, in terms of finding relief, we have a range of resources available on our website that can be helpful. We provide recommendations such as engaging in art therapy, spending time in nature, taking a break from media news, and connecting with other people. These can be valuable starting points for finding some relief.

But on a broader level, I would say that the key is to find a balance where your emotions don't paralyze you or prevent you from being engaged in the world. It's about practicing self-care and addressing the climate crisis in ways that are meaningful to you, using your skills and interests within your spheres of influence. 

It's important to understand that you don't have to go from anxiety to joy instantaneously. That's not how humans exist, and it's a false narrative. Instead, the opportunity lies in how you can channel your anxiety into action, self-care, engagement, and connection. Recognize that it's normal to come back to that anxiety or grief from time to time. Some of the most important steps you can take are to realize that you're not alone, connect with others, and openly discuss your emotions. 


What are the future goals and aspirations of the Climate Mental Health Network?

Looking ahead, we aim to continue building partnerships and collaborations with organizations, educators, and mental health professionals to expand our reach and impact. We want to ensure that climate mental health becomes an integral part of mental health care and education systems. We also plan to develop and share resources specifically tailored to different demographics and communities, addressing the unique challenges they face. Our ultimate goal is to foster emotional resilience, support, and action among young people and communities in the face of climate change.