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Climate change anxiety and mental health: Environmental activism as buffer


Schwartz, S. E., Benoit, L., Clayton, S., Parnes, M. F., Swenson, L., & Lowe, S. R. (2022). Climate change anxiety and mental health: Environmental activism as buffer. Current Psychology, 1-14.


A growing body of research has documented the phenomenon of climate change anxiety (CCA), defined broadly as negative cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses associated with concerns about climate change. A recently validated scale of CCA indicated two subscales: cognitive emotional impairment and functional impairment (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020). However, there are few empirical studies on CCA to date and little evidence regarding whether CCA is associated with psychiatric symptoms, including symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and whether engaging in individual and collective action to address climate change could buffer such relationships. This mixed methods study draws on data collected from a sample of emerging adult students (ages 18–35) in the United States (N = 284) to address these gaps. Results indicated that both CCA subscales were significantly associated with GAD symptoms, while only the Functional Impairment subscale was associated with higher MDD symptoms. Moreover, engaging in collective action, but not individual action, significantly attenuated the association between CCA cognitive emotional impairment and MDD symptoms. Responses to open-ended questions asking about participants’ worries and actions related to climate change indicated the severity of their worries and, for some, a perception of the insignificance of their actions relative to the enormity of climate change. These results further the field’s understanding of CCA, both in general and specifically among emerging adults, and suggest the importance of creating opportunities for collective action to build sense of agency in addressing climate change.

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Exploring perceived connections between environmental and social issues
01 September 2021 - 30 June 2022
Susan Clayton
Susan Clayton