Students fight anxiety on climate change but want it on curricula

Fears over future impact of environment damage causing worry and distress, especially among those studying its effects

October 18, 2023
A person with their back to the camera looks at a big grey cloud
Source: iStock

UK universities should consider monitoring students for signs of “climate anxiety” after 90 per cent of respondents to a survey said climate change affects their mental health and well-being.

A poll by the charity Student Minds found that 71 per cent of students are quite or very concerned about climate change, with 68 per cent concerned about the impact on them personally.

Only 10 per cent say their mental well-being is never negatively affected by climate change, with 39 per cent saying “rarely”, another 39 per cent saying “sometimes”, 10 per cent saying “often” and 2 per cent “always”.

At 40 per cent, frustration and anger due to climate change denial is the most commonly reported effect, followed by frustration and anger that not enough is being done (37 per cent) and anxiety about the impact on future generations (37 per cent).

Universities should “consider monitoring the occurrence of climate anxiety (or other climate change-related mental distress) among students accessing support services to further understand the link between climate change and poor student mental health in their university community”, the report recommends.

Institutions should also “explore the feasibility of green social prescribing programmes for students experiencing poor mental well-being unconnected to climate change” because research has shown that spending time in nature can bring significant benefits.

Student Minds

The connection between mental health and environmental damage has become a burgeoning area of study in recent years, with various studies linking a heightened sense of worry or distress to people’s fears about climate change. Research has also identified a higher level of mental health issues among students compared with the general population, prompting a raft of calls to do more to support those who are struggling

Student Minds’ study – supported by the UPP Foundation – is based on a survey of 153 self-selecting participants and focus groups. It recommends repeating the research with a larger, more representative sample.

Looking at wider questions, more than half (53 per cent) of the students polled say they want to learn about sustainability in their curriculum, while only 20 per cent say they already have. Among those who were taught about sustainability, 20 per cent say this might have prompted negative thoughts and behaviours afterwards.

On average, respondents to the survey believe that national and international governing bodies “are the most responsible for tackling climate change yet reported broadly pessimistic perceptions of the steps already being taken”, the study says.

Its recommendations for government include funding more climate and sustainability research, investing in green jobs and developing a public health strategy to address poor mental health and well-being linked to climate change.

Further recommendations for universities include divesting from polluting industries, “co-designing” green spaces on campuses with students and ensuring that, where sustainability is taught as part of a curriculum, psychological well-being is also embedded.

Rosie Tressler, the chief executive of Student Minds, said the group hoped the report would be the “first in a growing body of research establishing how climate change impacts students mentally and emotionally”.

“While there is much more to be done, we hope the report has highlighted areas for further inquiry, as well as providing policymakers and universities alike with a starting point to understand and address this connection on a grander scale,” she added.

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Reader's comments (2)

You have to get about halfway through the article before it is revealed the study is junk: "Student Minds’ study – supported by the UPP Foundation – is based on a survey of 153 self-selecting participants and focus groups. It recommends repeating the research with a larger, more representative sample."
After they've been monitored, what then? A prescription of happy pills to add to their list of medication. That was five minutes I'll never get back. Good job this nonsense didn't exist during the cold war and the Cuban missile crisis. And if you want to know about "sustainability", ask Dr Google. It doesn't warrant the now increasingly compulsory modules taking chunks out of academic study.