Panic attacks, visceral thoughts: Fear of environmental doom is on the rise among UAE's children

International studies show that up to two thirds of young people around the world are 'extremely worried' about the ongoing climate crisis


Nandini Sircar

Published: Wed 2 Nov 2022, 3:19 PM

Last updated: Fri 4 Nov 2022, 3:51 PM

‘Eco-anxiety' the chronic fear of environmental doom, is on the rise among children these days, with environmental literacy high on the agenda in most UAE schools.

International experts have noted that they see a growing number of children and young people being distressed about climate crisis and the state of the environment.

According to a recent study published in The Lancet, almost two-thirds of 10,000 students in the age group of 16-25 in various countries were “very or extremely worried” about climate change, while 84 per cent were moderately worried.

Mahira Zakiuddin, Wellington Director Counselling, GEMS Education explains why this is so prevalent today. During the launch of Wellington Mental Health Week in October 2022, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis hosted a panel discussion between Wellington students and mental health professionals. One discussion topic was ‘Mental health and sustainability’.

Students spoke about the anxiety that many of them experience when listening or watching different climate disasters, such as the floods in Pakistan and the wildfires in Australia and North America.”

“While the American Psychology Association has yet to declare eco-anxiety a disease, it is definitely something that can be witnessed and noticed in the conversations of young people in our school settings. There is a growing realisation among the student population that there lies a conservation disparity between adults and young people.

She explains there are many ways this shows up. At times it features as disbelief that there are not enough adults caring for the planet.

“For some, it results in catastrophising thoughts, panic attacks and visceral experiences very similar to generalised anxiety. For others, it features similar to hopelessness and leans more towards depressive symptoms. There needs to be an open conversation and dialogue to support these experiences and better understand what it will mean for future generations,” Zakiuddin adds.

Some experts underline that climate-related anxiety happens when there is a lot of talk about climate change in a manner that paints doom and gloom.

Asha Alexander, Principal, GEMS Legacy School and Executive Leader – Climate Change, GEMS Education, opines, “Children today are very receptive to what is going on around them and therefore there is a need to talk about climate change as something that can be changed through concerted action by everyone.

Schools that have embedded climate literacy help students understand the science of climate change and that, just as with all other problems, a solution is possible.”

As per the study more than half of the respondents felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty”, and more than 45 per cent noted that climate change “negatively affected their daily life and functioning.”

“When and if we come across students who have doubts or anxiety about the future of the world, we keep all channels of communication open, explaining what is happening and how we all have a role to play in averting the outcomes of climate change.

Where there is fear and anxiety, it is because of a poor understanding and an expression of our inability to solve the same. Teachers and adults around children need to understand climate science themselves and help children by showing them that a solution is indeed possible,” adds Alexander.

Climate Action Day

Meanwhile, around 3.4 million teachers and students from 149 countries that includes the UAE, celebrated Climate Action Day recently — a programme of Take Action Global (TAG), a leading climate action education organisation.

TAG co-founder Koen Timmers says, “"Climate action education has the important role of tackling climate change on a global scale. It informs students, takes away climate anxiety, and brings important skills to a classroom including empathy, creativity, and problem-solving."

He adds, "Something happens when people from different locations and different life experiences come together to create change. When students join in local and global action, and as they become united in an effort for taking on a problem as big as the climate crisis, they start to understand how in this world we all fit together.”

In the sixth and final week, teachers and students join with project partners Climate Action Day, a global online celebration as they share their learning, actions, and even inventions with world leaders, leading climate scientists and researchers, and international youth activists.

Timmers adds, “The programme has grown in size and scope each year. It brings together thousands of schools from around the world to examine climate change and environmental literacy.

Students progress through weekly activities exploring causes, effects, and solutions. Classrooms engage in class-to-class virtual exchanges where they work with students from other countries and consider both local and global implications.”


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