Link between young adults’ climate anxiety and mental health strongest in Finland

A study carried out among university students in 25 countries demonstrates that negative climate change-related emotions have an impact on young adults’ insomnia and mental health. The link between climate anxiety and mental health is the strongest in Finland.

According to Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, young Finnish adults take climate issues very seriously. At the same time, many of them are reporting mental health struggles, which is also reflected in climate anxiety.

Climate change also threatens mental health

Climate change is a threat to mental health, and it increases exposure to the social and economic disruptions caused by extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. The climate crisis induces anxiety stemming from an existential threat.

“In terms of increasing awareness of climate change all around the world, negative emotions such as anxiety and concern for risks associated with the climate can increase the detrimental effects of climate change on young people’s mental health,” Salmela-Aro notes.

With an international group of colleagues, Salmela-Aro is investigating how negative climate-related emotions are connected to young people’s sleep and mental health. This is the first time when climate anxiety has been studied using a dataset of such scope. The sample was composed of university students from 25 countries (n=10,143; average age 23; 63% women) as well as a nationally representative sample from Norway (n=1,015). The 25 countries studied were divided into Western and non-Western countries. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom were classified as Western countries, while China, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Tanzania and Uganda were classified as non-Western countries.

Link between young adults’ climate anxiety and mental health strongest in Finland

From Finland, a total of 633 individuals participated in the study. Finland ranked sixth among the 25 countries in anxiety related to climate change, while the correlation between climate anxiety and mental health was the strongest in Finland of all the countries compared (see Figure 1). Climate change-related anxiety was the highest in Brazil, while Australia and Canada were closest to Finland in the international comparison.

“All in all, we found that negative emotions relating to the climate increase sleep problems and impair self-rated mental health in most of the countries.”

Gender affects the level of anxiety

Negative climate-related emotions increased insomnia among respondents in all 25 countries (Figure 1). The link between negative emotions and insomnia symptoms was significant in every country except China, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Slovakia and Tanzania. While negative climate-related emotions correlated inversely with mental health, such correlation was insignificant in Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Tanzania. The correlation between negative climate-related emotions and insomnia symptoms was nearly identical in Western and non-Western countries. However, the correlation between negative climate-related emotions and self-rated mental health varied greatly between Western and non-Western countries, with a markedly stronger correlation seen in Western countries.

Negative climate-related emotions are associated with insomnia symptoms and mental health issues. In addition, insomnia symptoms are related to gender. On average, female respondents reported more major insomnia symptoms and poorer mental health.

“Our findings indicate that psychological stress factors originating in climate change have a significant link to young people’s mental health in many countries,” says Salmela-Aro.

International research is needed to obtain empirical information on the unique challenges of mental health engendered by negative emotional responses.

The research article entitled ‘Negative emotions about climate change are related to insomnia symptoms and mental health: Cross-sectional evidence from 25 countries’ was recently published in the Current Psychology journal.

Further information:

Katariina Salmela-Aro, professor, +358 50 415 5283,

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In autumn 2021 Katariina Salmela-Aro will start serving as an Academy Professor, contributing to the multidisciplinary ClimComp consortium headed by Academician, Professor Markku Kulmala and funded by the Academy of Finland. The project is coordinated by the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research INAR, with the Finnish Meteorological Institute also participating. Salmela-Aro has responsibility for the contribution of the Faculty of Educational Sciences to the project, and she wishes to investigate and promote investment in climate change-related efforts in schools and education.

With a multidisciplinary group, ClimComp is developing interventions as well as redesigning school and university learning to inspire young people’s interest in climate issues and to reduce their climate anxiety. The Academy of Finland-backed project investigates young people’s emotions, interest and skills in authentic situations, for example, through new and innovative climate courses (e.g., introductory courses to university studies called and in real time with the help of new technical solutions.

“This enables us to identify optimal moments of learning and inspiration. Eureka moments are extremely important for learning, and they can also protect people from climate anxiety.

We will also closely cooperate with teachers in the project and utilise novel innovative methods of project-based learning.”