Study: Climate change affects the mental health of young Oregon residents

Anger. Guilt. Shame.

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

The agency’s report, Climate Change and Youth Mental Health in Oregon, highlights how extreme weather events such as wildfires, heat waves, snowstorms and droughts create fear, frustration and hopelessness among young people. OHA has partnered with the University of Oregon’s Department of Suicide Prevention to host virtual focus 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 support for the mental health of young people in schools and in our communities,” said Mecca Donovan, 23, of Eugene. “We want to see young people invited to the table and make decisions.”

Donovan, who helped host the focus groups, said she wanted to see more accountability and recognition of the challenges young people face.

Thousands of youth activists and supporters of the climate marched through downtown Portland on May 20, 2022. The Oregon Health Service released a report Tuesday detailing the impact of climate change on the mental health of young Oregon residents.

Christina Wenz-Graf / OPB

One of the key findings of the report says that young people often feel fired from the older generations and are not taken seriously by elected leaders.

“Burnout is just really, very bad,” said Eliza Garcia, a recent political science graduate at the UO. “I think it’s the biggest thing I’ve felt in the movement and the biggest thing I’ve made other people my age or younger talk about, it’s just the burn that comes from it. that we should feel like we “do it all alone.”

Garcia said she felt pressured to shift her focus to climate justice because more action was needed.

“I felt a lot that I had to work on it, and I really wanted to, if I’m not working on it right now, what am I doing then?” She said.

Garcia said she had turned down events and opportunities to fight climate change, and that pressure had affected her mental health. She said she was particularly concerned about younger activists.

“Now there are children, you know, high school, like the beginning of high school, who go into it, and when you start at such a young age, I see that these kids are already burned out and they’re not even 20 yet,” she said.

Andres De La Rosa-Hernandez, 25, is a partner support specialist at Monmouth. It provides support to people between the ages of 14 and 25 and helps them with life changes or problems they go through. He said the main concern was all the information on climate change that young people receive on social media.

“They see an article about melting polar ice caps or rising water, something like that, it’s hard for them to focus on whatever they’re doing when they think about how the world ends up around them,” De La Rosa-Hernandez said.

He said he also feels the same burnout from having to deal with so much at once. Most of the people in his circle feel the same way.

Cheyenne Summers holds his dog Toff while wrapped in a blanket after a few days in a tent at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge Evacuation Center on Sunday, September 13, 2020, in Oak Grove, Ore.

Shayan Summers holds his dog Toff while wrapped in a blanket after a few days in a tent at the evacuation center at Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge on Sunday, September 13, 2020, in Oak Grove, Ore. “It’s nice enough here that you could almost think of it as a campsite and almost forget about everything else,” Summers said of his stay in downtown after an evacuation from near Molala, Oregon, which was threatened by a river fire.

John Locher / AP

A conversation he has had with his wife many times is whether they want to have children and what their future would look like. De La Rosa-Hernandez said they were wondering if they really wanted to bring a child into such an uncertain world.

Another emotion that De La Rosa-Hernandez deals with is the guilt of the survivors. During the fires on Labor Day in 2020, he said he had received reports from friends that their homes were on fire or needed to be evacuated. This prompted him to pack his bags and be ready to leave, but his area did not have to be evacuated.

While I was very grateful to the universe for not having to evacuate, I didn’t lose all my things, I stopped and thought about anyone who lost things, and I ended up blaming the survivor, “why me?” he said. “Like just the area I live in?” Why did the universe, I guess, somehow punish them and not me?

Julie Early Sifuentes, OHA’s program manager and lead author of the study, said the report was designed to raise young people’s voices and better understand what steps are needed to help young people feel hopeful. She said she hoped the report would spark talks between families and local organizations and provide information on policy decisions in state and city agencies.

The OHA completed the report under Executive Order 20-04 of Governor Kate Brown, which directs government agencies to act and regulate greenhouse gas emissions and investigate the harmful effects of climate change. The report concluded with the importance of sharing power in decision-making on climate and mental health policy and decisions. He also proposed increasing funding for mental health services to provide schools and communities in need.

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