Study: Climate change affects the mental health of young people in Oregon

Anger. Guilt. Shame.

Young people in Oregon say they are experiencing these emotions as they deal with the effects of climate change, according to a study released by the Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday.

The agency’s report, Climate Change and Youth Mental Health in Oregon, highlights how extreme weather events such as fires, heat waves, snowstorms and droughts create fear, frustration and despair among young people. OHA collaborated with the Suicide Prevention Unit at the University of Oregon to organize virtual discussion groups with people between the ages of 15 and 25, and interviewed professionals working in mental health, education, and public health.

“We want to see more youth mental health support in schools and in our communities,” said Mecca Donovan, a 23-year-old from Eugene. “We want to see young people invited to the table and make decisions.”

Donovan, who helped organize the discussion group, said he wants to see more responsibility and acceptance of the challenges facing young people.

Thousands of young climate activists and supporters in the area marched from downtown Portland on May 20, 2022. The Oregon Health Authority released a report Tuesday that outlines the impact of climate change on the mental health of young people in Oregon.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

One of the main conclusions of the report said that young people often feel marginalized by older generations and are not taken seriously by the elected.

“The burnout is very, very bad,” said Eliza Garcia, a recent graduate in political science at the UO. “I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve ever felt in the movement, and the biggest thing I’ve talked about other people my age or younger than me, is just the burning out of feeling like ‘I’m just doing this.’

Garcia said he felt pressured to turn his attention to climate change because more action was needed.

“I felt like I needed to work on that a lot and I liked it a lot:‘ If I’m not working on this topic right now, what am I doing? ’” He said.

Garcia said he has ruled out events and opportunities to fight climate change and that the pressure has affected his mental health. He said he is particularly concerned about young activists.

“Now, you know, there are kids like middle school, high school, who are getting into that, and when you start that young person, I see that these kids are already smoking and they’re not even 20 yet,” he said.

Andres De La Rosa-Hernandez, 25, is a peer support specialist in Mondragón. It provides support to people between the ages of 14 and 25 and helps them with the life changes or problems they are experiencing. One of the main concerns is that young people receive all the information about climate change on social media.

“They see an article about melting ice caps or raising water, making it so hard for them to focus on everything they’re working on when they think about how the world is ending around them,” De La Rosa-Hernandez said. he said.

He said he felt the same burning even though he had to deal with many at the same time. Most people in his circle feel the same way.

Shayanne Summers holds her dog Toph wrapped in a blanket after spending several days in a store at an evacuation center at Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge on Sunday, September 13, 2020, in Oak Grove, Ore.

Shayanne Summers holds her dog Toph wrapped in a blanket after being in a store at an evacuation center at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge on Sunday, September 13, 2020, in Oak Grove, Ore. “It’s pretty nice here. You could almost think it’s camping and forget about everything else, almost,” Summers said of staying in downtown after being evacuated from Molalla, Oregon, which was threatened by Riverside Fir.

John Locher / AP

It’s a conversation he has had with his wife over and over again about whether they want to have children and what their future will be like. De La Rosa-Hernandez said they are wondering if they really want to bring a child into such a dubious world.

Another emotion that De La Rosa-Hernandez deals with is the guilt of the survivors. In the 2020 Labor Day fires, he received messages from friends saying the houses were on fire or needed to be evacuated. This prompted him to pack up and get ready to go, but his surroundings did not have to be evacuated.

“Although I was very grateful to the universe for not having to be evacuated, I didn’t lose all my things, I stopped at all the things I lost and thought and I ended up with the culprit of a survivor ‘why was it me?’ he said, “Is it just the area where I live? Why did the universe punish them in some way and not me?”

Julie Early Sifuentes, OHA program manager and lead author of the study, said the report is designed to raise the voices of young people and help them better understand what steps are needed to help young people feel hopeful. The report said it hopes to create dialogue between families and local organizations and inform state and city agency policy decisions.

The OHA completed the report in accordance with Executive Order 20-04 of Prime Minister Kate Brown, which directs the state agency to act on and regulate greenhouse gas emissions and to study the adverse effects of climate change. The report concluded the importance of sharing the power to make decisions about climate and mental health policies and solutions. He also suggested increasing funding for mental health services to be provided to schools and communities in need.


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