Parents told not to 'terrify' children over climate change as rising numbers treated for 'eco-anxiety'

Henry Bodkin
The Extinction Rebellion group brought parts of London to a halt in 2019 - Bloomberg

Rising numbers of children are being treated for “eco-anxiety”, experts have said, as they warn parents against “terrifying” their youngsters with talk of climate catastrophe.

Protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion, the recent fires in the Amazon and apocalyptic warnings by the teenage activist Greta Thunberg have prompted a “tsunami” of young people seeking help.

A group of psychologists working with the University of Bath says it is receiving a growing volume of enquiries from teachers, doctors and therapists unable to cope.

The Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) told The Daily Telegraph some children complaining of eco-anxiety have even been given psychiatric drugs.

The body is campaigning for anxiety specifically caused by fear for the future of the planet to be recognised as a psychological phenomenon.

However, they do not want it classed as a mental illness because, unlike standard anxiety, the cause of the worry is “rational”.

“A lot of parents are coming into therapy asking for help with the children and it has escalated a lot this summer,” said Caroline Hickman, a teaching fellow at Bath and a CPA executive.

“The symptoms are the same [as clinical anxiety], the feelings are the same, but the cause is different.

“The fear is of environmental doom - that we’re all going to die.”

Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg rose to global fame this year as she supported the protests by Extinction Rebellion, which brought parts of central London to a standstill.

Thurnberg argues that the EU must cut its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2030 to avoid an existential crisis - double the target set by the Paris Accord - while Extinction Rebellion demands the UK achieve net-zero emissions by 2025.

Greta Thunberg has achieved global fame Credit: PA

The G7 summit in Biarritz last month was also dominated by a row between France and Brazil over the Amazon fires after President Macron said the Earth’s “lungs” were burning. Ms Hickman said parents should talk to their children about global warming but should not say mankind is doomed.

“Parents need to find some words to talk about it that is age-appropriate and not terrifying,” she said.

“You need to separate what is fact from what is unknown: tell them some species are going extinct and some humans are being harmed, but don’t say we’re all going to die, because that isn’t true.”

“What you don’t want is that child to collapse in a well of depression saying “what’s the point in going to university”, or  “what’s the point of doing my exams”, which I have heard children say.”

The CPA recommends a four-stage approach to explaining responsibly climate change to children without scaring them.

Parents should first gradually introduce them to the known facts, then ask them how they feel, before acknowledging that the ultimate outcome is uncertain.

Finally, parents should agree practical steps to make a difference, such as by cutting down on non-recyclable waste and choosing food with a better climate footprint.

Eco-anxiety is steadily gaining recognition in the academic community.

In 2017 a report by the American Psychological Association produced a report recognising its impact and calling for dedicated research into the mental health consequences of climate change.

In one of her last acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May set a legally-binding target to cut greenhouse gasses to net-zero by 2050 in June.