Empowering Youth: Addressing climate Anxiety and Mental Health

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Empowering Youth: Addressing climate Anxiety and Mental Health

Climate change is often viewed primarily as an environmental issue, yet it is increasingly recognized as a significant mental health concern. The pervasive anxiety about the future of our planet, known as “climate anxiety,” affects millions of people globally, manifesting as chronic stress, depression, and a sense of helplessness.

In recent years, the Horn of Africa has experienced prolonged droughts, affecting over twenty-seven million people, according to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). These harsh conditions, compounded by unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather conditions, directly disrupt livelihoods and daily lives. Furthermore, the constant exposure to news about such events, along with the slow pace of policy changes, fuels a persistent state of stress. This chronic stress has the potential to escalate into more severe mental health issues, including depression and anxiety disorders.

Amidst this backdrop, in May 2024, WIIS-HoA convened a discussion aimed at shedding light on the intersection of climate change and mental health. Under the banner of the “WIIS-Talks” program, the event brought together youth and women from diverse backgrounds in Kenya, including students, grassroots climate activists, and mental health specialists. This gathering served as a catalyst for fostering resilience and understanding the profound impact of climate anxiety on mental well-being.

The “WIIS-Talks” program is a series of engaging forums designed to empower youth by providing a platform for dialogue and learning on various topics, with the aim of fostering resilience. These forums create an interactive and open atmosphere for participants to engage, enabling them to gain knowledge, skills, and inspiration to drive positive change in their communities and contribute to a more resilient and inclusive future.

Understanding Climate Anxiety and its effects

According to research conducted by Doherty and Clayton (2011), climate anxiety, also known as eco-anxiety, represents the human emotional response to climatic changes and environmental issues. Their study highlights the psychological impacts of climate change, shedding light on the pervasive nature of anxiety induced by environmental concerns.

In Kenya, the recent flooding and disruption of livelihoods in various areas underscore the pervasive impact of climatic changes, affecting not only farmers but entire communities.  According to the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) over 94,305 people have been displaced, 210 killed and nearly 205,000 affected by heavy rains and flooding as of 3rd May 2024.  In urban areas like Nairobi County, particularly in hard-hit regions such as Mathare, participating youth voiced heightened levels of anxiety and a widespread sense of hopelessness. The participants highlighted their frustration with the sluggish response of emergency support and policy interventions in addressing the challenges they face.

Moreover, they mentioned grappling with economic constraints stemming from climate-induced disruptions. These challenges, coupled with uncertainties, often push youth towards substance abuse and exacerbate familial conflicts, resulting in an increase in violence such as gender-based violence cases.

Coping mechanisms and Support systems

During the discussions, the participants provided suggestions to deal with challenges posed by the environmental shocks such as the ongoing flooding in Kenya.

Understanding the various responses to physical threat or danger is crucial for developing coping mechanisms that effectively address mental health issues among youth. In disaster-prone areas where flooding has displaced residents, equipping youth with essential skills such as first aid becomes imperative for effective disaster response and resilience-building. The youth emphasised the importance of peer-to-peer counselling and sessions such as WIIS-Talks where they could collectively discuss with their peers, promote self awareness while learn from each other and create community-based interventions that best suit their localities and needs.

For women, who are often caregivers, fostering a culture of care and avoiding dwelling on negative past experiences are essential coping strategies, these can be done through use of breathing exercises, seeking support from peers or professionals to effectively manage stress and anxiety.

During the event, the participants were taken through various exercises and practices that can help with positively impacting mental health. These included creative expression, and mindful meditation which support environmental resilience and well being.


The WIIS-Talks discussion provided a crucial platform during Mental Health Awareness Month on the profound impact of climate anxiety on mental well-being and the urgent need for inclusive strategies to address environmental and mental health crises, particularly among women and youth.

The discussion served as a beacon of hope, empowering participants to drive positive change in their communities and contribute to addressing climate anxiety and promoting mental well-being amidst environmental challenges.