The weight of the world: the climate crisis disproportionately impacts student mental health

The weight of the world: the climate crisis disproportionately impacts student mental health

Credit: Thea Pipe

Thea Pipe, Opinion Editor

In a 5th grade class, a video was shown about how every decision and action can affect the planet, it even showed how “sustainable” ways were bad too. A girl who spent a lot of time trying to live sustainably ran out of the class crying because she felt like it was all her fault despite being the only kid in the room who was doing anything at all to help with climate change.
According to LN counselor, Becky Parsons the human mind is still developing until the age of about 26, and until that time traumatic experiences can have a big impact.
Parsons said, “The mind is still developing, and then you have trauma that disrupts that development.”
That is not to say that traumatic experiences won’t have an effect after the brain is developed, just that it can have a greater impact when the brain is still developing. The result of the disruption in development caused by a traumatic experience such as a natural disaster, can be many different things including mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
The many environmental issues going on in the world create a host of those stressful and traumatic experiences, whether or not the child or teenager has experienced them directly. Hearing about new disasters like forest fires and tropical storms everyday can weigh heavily on the developing mind, creating mental issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and sleep disorders.
According to academic journal “The Conversation,” environmental factors can have effects outside of causing stress and trauma related mental disorders. Global warming for example, often causes unexpected heat waves: these heat waves can harm a youth’s sleep, which in turn harms their performance in school or at work.
Environmental issues can have such a noticeable and harmful impact on a youth’s mental health and school performance, as it has for senior Sam Nagel-Bennet by stressing him out, so he has a harder time focusing on school.
Many in the younger generations feel that previous generations have let them down. According to The New Yorker, a group of teenagers from California led by Alec Loors have filed a lawsuit against the US government claiming that previous generations had left the planet so damaged and depleted of natural resources that their rights to life and liberty are being threatened. The teenagers claim that their fundamental right to life and liberty has been violated by the neglect by their predecessors.
So if the issues themselves are problematic for younger generations, what about the way those issues are commonly presented to us?
According to a Knight Life poll of 137 Loy Norrix students, or 8% of the students at the school, 93% are familiar with environmental issues such as climate change, endangered species, extinct species, deforestation, and pollution.
Of the students polled, almost 67% felt that it had been inferred by either their parents or teachers that it was their generation’s responsibility to fix environmental issues from the past, and 43% said that they had been made to feel personally at fault or responsible for those environmental issues.
The way these issues are commonly presented is, according to students, frequently accusatory, placing the responsibility to fix these problems on the younger generations. The way these issues are presented is stressful and has the potential to be harmful to a student’s mental health.
Fifty-four percent of students polled agreed that their experiences with those environmental issues and how they were taught about them has affected their mental health in some way, 57.4% said it caused them anxiety. Also, 27 students said that the way environmental issues have been presented to them has made school harder to succeed in or focus on.
Junior Hope Wilson compared the way these environmental issues and the presentation of them made her feel existential dread saying, “If everyone is constantly telling you you’re gonna die then what’s the point of going to school?“
So these issues have, according to many, been presented in an unproductive and accusatory manner, and according to some students that’s exactly how it should be.
Senior Hollis Masterson said, “The blunt truth should be made apparent as it has been.” In this statement, Masterson clarifies that there’s no point in hiding the responsibility that has fallen to the younger generation.
Others think it should have been presented as a factual issue that everyone needs to face together.
Senior Faye Thomas said, “This generational responsibility still has constant debate regarding if it is even a factual thing. It should´’ve been presented to us with the support of the older generations. If the human race cannot even agree on the legitimacy of this issue then it is almost impossible to fix it.”