Impact of climate anxiety on mental health and gender disparities

Climate change has become an increasingly pressing issue, and its impacts are not limited to physical changes in the environment. Recent data from Google shows a rise in search queries related to “climate anxiety,” indicating growing distress about the consequences of climate change on human minds. Studies have also suggested that women are more affected by climate anxiety than men.

The highly visible signs of climate change, such as wildfires, floods, and droughts, have prompted increased concern worldwide. However, what is often overlooked is the emotional toll that climate change takes on individuals. Climate anxiety, defined as distress caused by the impacts of climate change, has been reported globally, particularly among children and young people.

According to Google Trends data, search queries related to “climate anxiety” have dramatically increased in the past few years. In the first 10 months of 2023, search queries in English around “climate anxiety” were 27 times higher compared to the same period in 2017. Similar surges have been observed in other world languages. However, the countries with the most searches in this category are not necessarily the ones most affected by climate anxiety. Nordic countries, including Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, accounted for over 40% of search queries related to “climate anxiety” over the past five years. This disparity is attributed to the awareness level and Google usage patterns within each country.

While “climate anxiety” and “eco-anxiety” are often used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings. Climate anxiety specifically pertains to distress related to climate change, whereas eco-anxiety encompasses broader anxieties about threats to environmental health. Google Trends measures search interest, which allows for an analysis of the relative popularity of search queries over time.

The data also reveals an increase in search queries about the future of the planet, sustainability, adaptation, and greenhouse gas emissions in the last 12 months. People are not only searching for information but also expressing a desire to take action. Queries like “how to solve climate change” have been trending globally. This indicates a growing concern and an active search for solutions.

Gender disparities in climate anxiety are a significant concern highlighted by various studies. Women tend to experience higher levels of concern and negative emotions compared to men. This disparity is attributed to women’s willingness to acknowledge and discuss their emotions more openly. Additionally, women may be at greater risk of experiencing the real-life impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events often lead to increased levels of domestic violence, and displacement due to climate change exposes women to threats like sexual violence and trafficking. Physiological vulnerabilities, such as the impact of high temperatures and air pollution on pregnancy, further contribute to women’s heightened anxiety.

Research has also shown that women are more likely to face mortality risks during climate change-related disasters. Gender-based inequalities and limited access to information exacerbate these risks, especially in poorer countries. Women may prioritize the safety of others over their own, have limited mobility, and face economic pressures that lead to early marriages for girls.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged the mental health impacts of climate change, highlighting the need for greater attention to this issue. The upcoming COP28 in Dubai will feature discussions on mental health and climate change. As the awareness of the impact of climate change on mental health grows, it is crucial to address the gender disparities in climate anxiety and ensure support systems are in place to help individuals cope with this growing concern.

In conclusion, the rise in Google searches around “climate anxiety” reflects the increasing distress individuals feel about the impacts of climate change on mental health. Women, in particular, are more prone to experiencing climate anxiety. As climate change continues to escalate, it is essential to prioritize mental health support and address the gender disparities associated with climate anxiety. By acknowledging and taking action on climate anxiety, we can work towards a more sustainable and resilient future.