PORTLAND, Ore. ( Associated Press) — Oregon health officials say the effects of climate change — including more devastating fires, tsunami waves, drought and poor air quality — are fueling “climate anxiety” among residents. youths.
Their findings were published in a report that highlights feelings of anguish, anger and frustration among young people at the perceived inaction of adults and governments.
At a press conference hosted by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) on Tuesday, three young people spoke about how climate change has affected their mental health.
Mira Saturen, a high school student, expressed the terror she felt when the Almeda Fire swept through an area near her hometown of Ashland in southwestern Oregon in September 2020. The flames destroyed more than 2,500 homes.
“It was a horrible and stressful couple of days as details of the fire became known,” said Saturen, 16. His fears were compounded by the fact that his father works in the fire department. “He was fighting the fire for more than 36 hours, which scared me a lot.”
In March 2020, Governor Kate Brown commissioned the OHA to study the effects of climate change on the mental health of young people. In her report, the agency notes that her research was “designed to focus on the voices of youth, especially tribal and black youth in Oregon.”
The report highlights that marginalized communities are more likely to suffer from the adverse health effects of climate change, noting that “emerging research shows disproportionately similar burdens in terms of mental health.”
Te Maia Wiki, another high school student from Ashland, made this point.
“For me, it is important to mention that I am indigenous,” he said. The mother of this 16-year-old girl is Yurok, an indigenous community in Northern California, along the Pacific coast and the Klamath River.
“In my mother’s generation, when I was growing up, I would go to traditional ceremonies and eat smoked salmon that was traditionally caught by our people in our river, which we have fished since time immemorial,” Wiki said. “In my life, I have rarely eaten that fish, I have seen that smoked salmon in our ceremonies. This is a spiritual, emotional and physical embodiment of how this stresses me out and how it impacts me.”
OHA partnered with the University of Oregon Suicide Prevention Laboratory to review the literature, conduct focus groups with youth, and interview professionals from the public health care, mental health, and education sectors. The interviews were conducted shortly after an extreme heat wave hit parts of the state in the summer of 2021.
Although focused on Oregon, the report underscores a broader concern for the mental health of young people in the United States in the face of rising national depression and suicide rates.
Climate change and the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated an already alarming mental health crisis among the very young. The number of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% between 2009 and 2019, according to a December surgeon general advisory. Citing national surveys, the same document noted that the suicide rate among young people aged 10 to 24 increased by 57% between 2007 and 2018.
Despite the crisis, study participants also expressed a feeling of resilience.
“One of the biggest and most bittersweet takeaways from our focus groups is that we’re not in this alone,” Mecca Donovan, 23, said at Tuesday’s conference, adding that for young people with “all these pent-up thoughts,” having more opportunities to talk could help your mental health.
The study’s lead author, Julie Early Sifuentes, of the OHA Climate and Health Program, explained that she hopes her work “sparks conversations in families, schools, and communities and informs policy decisions.” .