Climate Change Could Be Triggering Mental Health Issues Among Teenagers, Study Shows

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A recent report from Drexel University reveals that climate change is adversely affecting the mental health of American high school students, adding to existing evidence of its impact on the environment.

Teenagers exposed to climate disasters at risk of mental health issue

The study involving 38,616 high scholars from 22 public school districts in 14 U.S. states found that adolescents who had experienced frequent climate disasters within the past two to five years had a higher likelihood of developing mental distress compared to those who hadn’t experienced such disasters. The study, the first of its kind on a large scale, examined the mental health impacts of disasters on adolescents, taking into account factors like frequency, timing, and duration of events. Researchers utilized data from the U.S. Youth Risk Behavior Survey in May 2019 and disaster data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct the study.

Lead author Amy Auchincloss, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Dornsife School of Public Health, expressed concern over the widespread impact of climate change on a global scale. The research findings highlight the alarming reality that climate-related disasters are already affecting numerous teenagers in the United States. For instance, within the last two years, multiple school districts included in the study experienced over 20 days of climate-related disasters.

Climate disasters linked to mental distress among teens

Researchers surveyed teenagers about their mental health, focusing on feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of sleep, which are associated with mental health issues in adolescents. Researchers considered various factors like age, gender, race, bullying, school safety concerns, and income and found a potential connection between experiencing climate disasters and mental distress over the past decade, but it wasn’t statistically significant.

The study conducted by Josiah Kephart, PhD, from the Dornsife School of Public Health, indicates that the most significant impact on mental distress occurs within two years following a climate disaster, gradually decreasing over 5 to 10 years thereafter. However, the authors caution against establishing a direct link between extreme weather events and declining mental health.

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