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New study finds concerning cause of mental health issues in kids: 'They ... are impacted by their parents' emotional distress'

"They experience those things firsthand, but then they also …"

"They experience those things firsthand, but then they also ..."

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Environmental discourse often centers around tangible impacts of our planet's changing temperatures, like rising sea levels or extreme weather events. But the changing climate isn't just altering landscapes — it's also affecting our children's mental health.

What's happening? 

A new study by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica revealed that children are at risk for developing mental health issues due to the changing climate, even if they're not witnessing it directly. This climate anxiety can lead to a variety of mental and physical health disorders and starts as early as the womb.

Why is it important?

Poor mental health is a growing problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "more than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness." Many mental illnesses, like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, can be exacerbated by stressful situations or experiences. The changing climate is one of them. 

A Yale study found that "7% of American adults are experiencing at least mild levels of climate change psychological distress."

Now, it's even affecting our children. 

The report noted that acute events (fires, floods, hurricanes, and other severe weather events) and ongoing events (heat, droughts, air pollution) are all sources of climate distress. Frequent or ongoing occurrences of these events, whether experiencing them directly or through a parent, have a negative impact on children's mental health. 

Christie Manning, the co-author of the report, told Yale Climate Connections that "[children] experience those things firsthand, but then they also often are impacted by their parents' emotional distress at living through that same disaster."

These additional stressors can increase the risk of children developing mental illnesses, like PTSD.

What's being done?

The study outlined a range of solutions for minimizing harm to our people and planet. These solutions include transitioning to renewable sources of energy, implementing inclusive climate programs and policies, integrating climate education into curricula, and healthcare practices to identify and resolve climate-related distress.

Arthur C. Evans Jr., the chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association, and Meighen Speiser, the executive director of ecoAmerica, encouraged readers to "join us in taking action to overcome the climate crisis, support children and youth, and ensure a future in which they can thrive."

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