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Activism, connecting with nature, talking – How young Kiwis are dealing with climate anxiety

This is the second installment in a two-part series on the climate crisis and the mental health of young people. Read the first article here. Three young Kiwis spoke to Stuff about how they have coped with the impact of climate change on their mental health, and offered advice for other people dealing with anxiety, grief or despair associated with the climate crisis. As told by Laura Walters.

As New Zealand, and the rest of the world, experiences more extreme weather events, sea level rise, atmosphere and ocean warming, rates of environmental concern are also on the rise.

The most affected are the youth, who are fully aware of the climate crisis and the question mark hanging over their future.

This put a huge burden on their shoulders, which led to sadness, anxiety, and despair.

New Zealand students have taken to the streets to strike over climate change - a phenomenon that has spread around the world.

Monique Ford/Staff

New Zealand students have taken to the streets to strike over climate change – a phenomenon that has spread around the world.

But those with climate anxiety have found a range of ways to process their feelings, improve their mental health, and to help effect change.

Read more:
* Therapists account for concern for the environment
Environmental Therapy: Mental Health and the Climate Crisis
Climate anxiety is real and felt by young people
* Students who march against climate change only reject the talk they shake it
* ‘My Mind Is Going Crazy’: The Rise and Prevalence of Mental Illness Among Kiwi Teens

Rhiannon Mackie says she was feeling desperate, and now she is fueled by hope that the planet can still be saved.

Monique Ford / Stuff

Rhiannon Mackie says she was feeling desperate, and now she is fueled by hope that the planet can still be saved.

Rhiannon Mackie is a 17-year-old student. She grew up in Lower Hut, in the Wellington area, and attends Hot Valley High School.

Aside from being terrifying and worrisome, the climate crisis also brings me hope, because we have solutions, and we have the power of the people behind us.

If we act now, we can choose to keep the temperature below 1.5 degrees, we can choose to protect the future of our youth, and we can build a better world together — collectively — a world that embodies climate justice.

We’ve seen the group’s power to make change – the collective mobilization of youth has led to a declaration of a climate emergency, and net-zero carbon goals worldwide.

The climate crisis is a symptom of the disconnect within our society between people and the environment – the mindset of seeing them as separate entities rather than intrinsic interconnectedness.

One of the biggest things I do to address the impact of climate change on my hand is reconnecting with the natural world — ocean swimming, bush walks, little things that reconnect me with the world around me, and allow me to recharge to continue the fight for climate justice.

In addition, activity has a tremendous positive effect on my health.

In the fight for change, I gained the skills and tools I need to be empowered to effect change, and I built strong bonds with others who share my same passion for change—links that allow me to share my feelings, thoughts, and ideas with other wonderful people of different generations.

Dean Williams / Stuff

Young people demand action on climate change at the School’s Strike 4 climate rally in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square on Friday.

When I was younger, the climate crisis filled me with despair and anxiety, and a lot of my work was driven by these feelings, but after I learned how to respond to and deal with these feelings it changed the way I feel, the way I feel. I see my work.

I am now more optimistic about the future, and have the strength to lead change, no matter what opposition I face; Knowing the power of teamwork and activism has been a huge help in this.

Despair was no longer motivated by my activism, but by intense love and hope in a world not yet doomed; Not by a long shot.

It is very important that young people do not feel lonely when dealing with the climate crisis, because this is a crisis caused, among other things, by the individualistic mentality of capitalism. Therefore, this crisis can only be resolved when we work together and build strong communities that work towards collective solutions for society as a whole.

So, my advice to young people whose well-being has been affected by the climate crisis is to find or build a community around you, passionate about climate change. And consciously create hope every day, because with hope we can solve this crisis.

Hailey Xavier says their generation is dealing with the effects of the crisis on their mental health, but this is not a call for more injustice.

supplied

Hailey Xavier says their generation is dealing with the effects of the crisis on their mental health, but this is not a call for more injustice.

Hayley Xavier is a 17-year-old student activist from Kerala, India. They grew up in Tāmaki Makaurau, and now live in tepoti where they will begin studying Psychology at the University of Otago in 2022.

Activity helps counteract the impact of climate change on my mental health, but can be consuming if not regulated. So, taking some time for myself will distract these feelings for a moment.

I have certainly burned several times. I often lose hope. Sometimes I feel depressed. Sometimes I feel fine. It comes in waves. I feel tired now.

The future of this crisis will soon be in the hands of my generation. It is in everyone’s best interest to protect our mental health, and we are not only supported by mental health facilities, but by appropriate climate action.

To people in positions of power: My generation dealing with the effects of the climate crisis on our mental health is not a call for more injustice.

For those who think my generation is dramatic about this: invalidating our experience perpetuates the license of inaction.

As much as it is in our nature to contribute to climate action in any way we can, our progress depends on our well-being. There is no point in inheriting a burden if we are all too exhausted to handle it productively. So, take care of yourself, and reach out for support

Lochie Cowles (Ngāi Tahu) says people whose mental health has been affected by the climate crisis should talk to a professional or someone they trust about the stress of it all.

supplied

Lochie Cowles (Ngāi Tahu) says people whose mental health has been affected by the climate crisis should talk to a professional or someone they trust about the stress of it all.

Lochie Cowles (Ngāi Tahu) grew up in the small town of Otematata on the South Island. The 19 year old retail sales assistant now lives in tepoti.

In an effort to address the effects of climate change and climate anxiety, I participated in School Strike for Climate while in high school. I am now working with a group called The Hive, whose goal is to be a middle ground between Rangatahi and the government. We recently finished our participation in the Emission Reduction Plan (ERP) which was a great experience.

I’ve also visited mental health professionals, and climate anxiety has certainly been brought up before.

It is not right for young people to have to fight so hard for our future when none of this is our fault.

We will be most affected by climate change, but none of us have allowed this to happen.

There is a constant state of anxiety that many young people suffer from. Being young is already stressful enough but the sense of responsibility for the future of the world is just unsustainable.

My advice is to talk to a professional or someone in your life you trust about the stress of all this. And if you want to get involved in the fight for our future, there are plenty of groups out there that want to help.

You can read the first story in this two-part series here.

To read about the increasing burnout experienced by environmentalists, and how this is exacerbated by individually focused climate action, click here.

Where do you get help?

  • 1737, need to speak? Call for free or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.

  • Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 For people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

  • Lifeline 0800 543 354

  • what’s up: Free counseling service for those under the age of 18

  • rural support fund 0800 787 254

  • Samaritans 0800726666

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828865 (0508 Tatoko)

  • youths 0800 376633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find online chat and other support options here.

  • New Zealand concern 0800 Concern (0800269 4389)

  • If it is an emergency, click here To find your local Crisis Assessment Team number.

  • In life-threatening situations, call 111

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