- Young people are uniquely affected
- More than half of global youth feel very or extremely worried about climate change.
- Reasonable reaction to a real crisis
- Stories can normalize feelings of distress and channel them into meaningful coping and action
- Highlight solutions
- Calls-to-action that emphasize realistic, meaningful steps that individuals can take to address the crisis can address feelings of hopelessness
- Stories should amplify the leadership of women and non-binary people as well as BIPOC people in the climate movement.
Spotlight support from friends and family
- Peer support is a critical tool to represent this issue.
- People, especially youth, rely on their peers for information and support. Mainstream entertainment can depict the role of friends and family to help people process climate emotions, validate their experiences and make them feel connected and not alone in their experiences.
- A single “climate hero” often does not encourage action because people feel overwhelmed by the potential role and responsibility.
- Group efforts that are reasonable and relatable make people feel better about their ability to take positive actions and to feel less overwhelmed about climate change. Showing the collective, group nature of this issue and working together to solve it inspires positive actions and makes people feel more hopeful.
Represent the causes of mental health challenges accurately
- Normalize and validate emotional reactions to climate change.
- Eco-anxiety and climate distress for many individuals is a reasonable reaction to a real crisis of immense magnitude, but this connection is not widely addressed or acknowledged across many sectors including media, healthcare, and advocacy. Entertainment media stories have an opportunity to normalize this response and channel distress into meaningful coping and action.
- Climate related mental health challenges can come from both direct experiences (e.g. wildfires, floods) and indirect (general anxiety about climate stories and predictions).
Provide resources and calls-to-action
- Stories that touch on climate change or climate related mental health challenges should point toward ways for viewers to get involved, whether that is to support their own mental health or take action on a systemic level.
- Community and support networks are critical in the aftermath of a disaster. In fact, disasters can sometimes strengthen community connectedness in the longer term.
- Apocalyptic doomsday stories, especially when not coupled with actionable steps toward improving the situation, don’t inspire action and instead often make people feel despair and hopelessness.
- Realistic responses to the situation are meaningful – stories should find a balance between unrelentingly optimistic attitudes and despair or hopelessness. A balance between these is critical to help people feel that their emotions are normal and OK, and that they can take meaningful steps to address the crisis.
There is an urgent need to address the mental health consequences of the climate crisis. An estimated two hundred million Americans are at risk of climate-related mental health issues due to both the direct and indirect effects of climate change. Each year, extreme climate conditions impact more than 47 million Americans – and research shows that conditions such as higher temperatures, more rain, and more frequent and intense tropical cyclones all correlate with worsened mental health. Rising temperatures and more frequent extreme heat have also been linked to higher rates of suicide.
Climate related mental health challenges affect people of all ages, but affect young people acutely. A recent global study of 10,000 youth worldwide found 59% very or extremely worried, 84% at least moderately worried about climate change. Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
Addressing emotions is critical to dealing with the climate crisis. Efforts to mitigate the negative impact of climate change must be paired with efforts to help “balance apathy, fear, and despair with efficacy, compassion, and desire”. According to a recent report, “representations of climate change in media and popular culture can influence a person’s stress response and mental well-being.”
There is an untapped opportunity through mainstream entertainment storytelling to normalize and de-stigmatize challenging emotions related to the climate crisis, direct people to tools and resources to get the support they need, and inspire action to address climate change.
Facts & Stats