What do kids know about global warming?
A lot more than we think. And it’s hurting them.

Kid on a swingWe understand climate change can hurt our mental health and lead to increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder – all of which can be costly to treat. Now, a new study suggests children may experience even greater mental health impacts due to climate-related stress. The report from the American Psychological Association and the nonprofit ecoAmerica documents the psychiatric harm to children in the face of climate stress and uncertainty.

Displacement from extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes or floods can lead to changes in children’s behavior, development, decision-making, and academic achievement. Following Hurricane Katrina, around 50,000 Louisiana and Mississippi children missed school in 2005-2006 and approximately 15,000 did not attend the next year. More than a third of Louisiana children experienced clinically diagnosed depression, anxiety, or another behavior disorder after the storm.

Furthermore, children’s direct experience with climate change, and even what they hear in the news, can cause symptoms of PTSD, such as phobic behavior, panic, and nightmares. Other psychological responses to climate change such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing.

The cost of mental health treatment is not cheap. One survey found that 4.6 million children received mental health services in a given year totaling $8.9 billion. That puts the average expenditure per child at $1,931 a year – not to mention pain and disruption. Even if your children are able to avoid the mental stressors of climate change, members of your community may not be so lucky. When your town suffers, local and state taxes rise to pay for health and community support.

Check out the Nine Tips to help kids’ thoughts and emotions become resilient (pg. 42). You might also look at our Where-to-Live Scorecards to see which climate-related stressors might be predicted for your town, or for a town you are considering relocating to.