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What Does Climate Change Have to Do With Your Child’s Mental Health?

What does climate change have to do with mental health? Climate change, driven by our reliance on fossil fuels, is leading to more frequent and intense natural disasters, which may increase a child’s risk of having depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Air pollution from burning fossil fuels has also been linked to children experiencing more symptoms of anxiety and depression.

As our climate changes, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, may become more dangerous. During a natural disaster, families may have to leave their homes and belongings behind. They may have trouble getting food and clean water, or have to leave their home permanently. These stressful experiences may cause children to develop mental health problems like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

Hurricanes, wildfires, and floods also can be Adverse Childood Experiences (ACEs), especially when a child directly witnesses the loss of their home, or these events result in the loss of a family member or friend. The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their risk for many health problems later in life. ACEs can lead to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment as well as risk-taking behaviors that lead to chronic diseases throughout life. 

If your child has lived through a natural disaster or has persistent worries about how climate change might impact them directly, you can help increase their resilience to toxic stress by:

  • Maintaining your involvement in your child’s life. A supportive adult may be the single most important buffer against toxic stress for a child.
  • Building resilience to adversity by promoting healthy risk-taking in a responsible way. For example, encouraging children to step out of their comfort zones and try new activities or meet new people can help build their self-confidence.
  • Showing your child the value of persistence as you overcome an obstacle in life. When your child struggles with or fails at a task, talk with them about times when you have had a setback. Help your child understand that life comes with challenges and that persistence can help overcome them.

Communities can take actions to promote resilience to climate-related trauma by:

  • Providing high-quality early education
  • Reducing crime in their community
  • Training teachers to care for students who have experienced trauma
  • Creating more accessible and well-maintained parks and playgrounds
  • Providing more green space, which is linked to improved well-being

Excerpted from “Climate Change and Mental Health,” a guide for parents and caregivers produced by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  Learn more about the impacts of climate change on children’s mental health in the C-Change guide online.

Source:Harvard College, T.H. Chan School of Public Health |  Climate Change and Mental Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/climate-change-and-mental-health | Copyright © 2020 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. Call or email our Care Coordinators at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Consultation appointment.

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