Young people suffering from climate anxiety still fighting for their, and everyone’s, future

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Don’t Trash Our Treasure is focusing on how the impacts of climate change are affecting the emotional wellbeing of millions around the world, particularly young people.

Psychiatrists call it “climate anxiety.”

It’s a very real issue and our youth, especially in South Florida, are dealing with it every day, but some have found a way to channel this angst into a positive.

For the past few years, Florida has been dealing with mounting environmental and climate problems.

“The floods, the sargassum, the fish kill, the coral die off, the droughts, the extreme heat are all a dire reminder that the climate crisis is here,” said CLEO Institute Executive Director Yoca Arditi Rocha.

On Earth Day, a small army of South Florida students showed up at Mast Academy on Virginia Key to walk the talk and demand action on the climate crisis.

“Having these events like this makes people realize that this is a big issue,” said Coral Gables Senior High junior Gabriela McGrath Moreira. “We want clean energy to be the future because that’s the only way that we can truly counteract how many fossil fuels are being emitted into the atmosphere.”

The planet pep rally and 5-K run was the backdrop to a serious and pressing issue affecting many of our youth who literally feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

“It’s despair,” said Arditi Rocha. “We’re seeing students really coming up with a lot of anxiety with regards to their future.”

Climate anxiety is a clinical diagnosis that therapists have been monitoring for over 20 years.

“There are so many people that are getting particularly worried about climate and climate change that we’ve pretty much coined a term specifically for that kind of anxiety,” said community psychiatrist Dr. Carissa Caban-Aleman.

In fact, Yale University recently published a study that said that 64% of Americans were at least somewhat worried about global warming, with 10% feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge about global warming at least several days per week, and 9% reporting being unable to stop or control worry about global warming.

“It’s mainly like a fear of the future for me,” said student Andrew Rivera.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of it during her recent visit to Miami, pledging $562 million for climate resiliency.

“Climate anxiety, the emotional, the psychological, the mental toll, that the knowledge about this crisis is taking on our young people,” Harris said during her visit.

The constant barrage of headlines underscoring the need for urgent action to defuse the climate time-bomb only adds more fuel to the fire.

The United Nations IPCC report released in March called it a final warning: stop using fossil fuels by 2040 or it will be too late.

Cutler Bay Senior High student Jillian Ortega recently joined a delegation of over 60 young climate activists who went to Washington D.C.

“Mental health is an issue that a lot of people dismiss, and especially with climate change,” she said.

While in D.C., the group of students lobbied lawmakers to act on climate, specifically asking for legislation to address the need for more climate education, and the growing anxiety among their peers.

“It’s our future,” she said. “Our future students, our future kids, it’s our future, so they should be hearing about what we have to say.”

Gabriela Barreto, another concerned student, was also there.

“The climate movement is definitely growing and it’s getting bigger, it’s getting more support,” she said.

In fact, the science says advocacy is the best way for young people to cope with climate anxiety, to get involved, take action and move their feet.

“It doesn’t need to be so doom and gloom, if we feel like we have at least a part, that we’re helping a little bit to make a difference, I think that’s very healing,” said Caban-Aleman.

That’s why the CLEO Institute also recently took another youth delegation to Tallahassee to speak to state lawmakers to move the needle.

“I think giving them those opportunities again, because action is the antidote to despair, they can become really involved and empowered,” said Arditi Rocha.

South Florida’s youth are literally fighting for everyone’s future, including their own.

“I give myself hope, and everyone around me,” said McGrath Moreira. “We wake the adults up by showing this as a non-negotiable issue, and we respectfully invite them to the conversation. We respectfully go up to them, but we’re firm, and the fact that this is happening and that this needs to be acted on and we need your help.”

For more information on climate anxiety and resources to help, visit the CLEO Institute by clicking here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.