Climate Mental Health
Beyond Gloom and Doom: How to Teach Climate Change Towards Empowerment
anxious. Overlooking emotions while learning about crushing climate data can cause anxiety, and helplessness, and impede our ability to learn and take action. How do we support youth in stepping up rather than shutting down?
The following pages offer a brief review of strategies and resources for processing climate change-related emotions inspiring action together and hope for the future. The teaching resources associated with each strategy include a thoughtfully curated collection of lesson plans, websites, and videos that support climate mental health. The goal of these pages is to facilitate the expression, processing, and validation of youths' climate emotions while also encouraging positive emotions and reducing stress. These pages are not a replacement for services from a mental health professional. Please seek professional help if any of your students or you are at risk.
View a related webinar: Beyond Doom & Gloom: How to Teach Climate Change Towards Empowerment and related resources: Controversy in the Classroom: Strategies for managing climate change discourse.
Teaching Climate Change Towards Empowerment
Many of the strategies described in the action pages to follow can apply both to students and to teachers and caregivers. As you read through, think about strategies you can adopt to support your students at all age levels, those that you can recommend to your students' parents and caregivers, and those you can employ yourself.
Consider visiting the Climate Mental Health Network for more resources and strategies to support Climate Mental Health.
Check out the Climate Mental Health Support Activities Guide, a collection of short lesson plans that align with each of the strategies below, designed in collaboration between CLEAN and the Climate Mental Health Network.
Self-care » Learn about self-care strategies that can help you support yourself and the youth as you navigate climate impacts.
Climate Justice » Including conversations about climate justice within the context of mental health is important as the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect low-income, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. This may also influence people's mental health. Learn about resources and strategies to help youth become more aware of these disproportionate impacts and include multiple voices and ways of knowing in conversations and action projects.
Listen and Validate Feelings » Listening to youth about their concerns is one of the first and most important strategies to utilize with youth. Learn about resources and strategies that can support youth in expressing their emotions and help them feel heard.
Encourage and Take Action » Taking action to mitigate the effects of climate change can have a profoundly positive impact in moving through grief and anxiety towards empowerment. Learn about resources and strategies for engaging youth in individual and collective action.
Join and Create Community and Connection » Supporting youth in finding solidarity with others builds positive relationships and a feeling that "I'm not alone". Learn about strategies and resources to support youth in building connections and community with others.
Incorporate a Trauma-Informed Approach » Climate change can cause exposure to potentially traumatic events and in turn, result in trauma-related mental health reactions affecting individuals, families, and communities. Learn about resources and strategies to implement in the classroom that integrate a trauma-informed approach.
Use Social, Emotional, and Positive Coping Skills » Social, emotional, self-regulation, and positive coping practices can help to effectively manage emotions related to climate change. Learn about resources and strategies that support emotional regulation, management, and coping.
Move through Grief » Understand the five stages of grief, strategies, and resources that can support youth in moving through grief to build resilience.
Cultivate Hope and Resilience » Hope is a teachable skill. Learn to cultivate hope through time in nature, reframe the problems associated with climate change, and share examples of others doing climate change work.
The goal is not to eliminate negative emotions, those who experience negative emotions about climate change are more likely to engage in climate action. However, if emotions are exceeding a personal threshold, it can result in becoming angry or disengaged. Resiliency is not about the absence of negative emotions; it is about managing these emotions without letting them get "stuck" to avoid larger mental health challenges.
By becoming more resilient through taking action, listening, finding shared solidarity in the community, moving through our grief, incorporating trauma-informed practices, practicing social, emotional, and positive coping skills, and cultivating hope, we can expand our resiliency and move towards empowerment.
There are both direct and indirect ways that climate change can affect mental health in youth. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the increasing impacts of climate change around the world such as droughts, famine, heatwaves, species die-off, and increased intensity of hurricanes and wildfires are reality and projected to increase.
Direct impacts: Research has shown that natural disasters that can be attributed to or that were magnified by climate change have a direct, significant impact on mental health and well-being.
Indirect impacts: Anxiety about the effects of climate change on our current and future lives (eco-anxiety), worry, or chronic fear of environmental doom are indirect impacts of a changing climate.