Covid-19 and the climate crisis, which have caused unprecedented disruptions across the world, had a similar negative impact on young Indians’ mental health, showed a study by international researchers, including from India, published on Friday in the journal The Lancet Regional Health – Southeast Asia.
Climate change affected the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. Young people with a mental illness and without social support are at an increased risk of climate change induced mental ill-health.
Covid-19 resulted in a similar increase in psychological distress. Incidents of depression, anxiety and insomnia have increased due to the upheavals that people were experiencing including loss of livelihood and breaking of social bonds.
“While Covid-19 has affected daily life and health on an immediate level, climate change has been silently damaging the planet with adverse impacts that are not immediately apparent,” said lead author Dr Sandhya Yatirajula from the The George Institute for Global Health, in a statement.
“The loss of agency and hopelessness that may result from climate change is concerning, particularly for vulnerable populations who are already at risk due to the Covid-19 crisis,” she added.
The study included nearly 600 young adults aged between 16 and 24, living in the urban slums in Haryana’s Faridabad and Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills.
The team, from India, Australia, and the UK explored the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of young people on both the climate and Covid-19 crises, their concerns, and desires for the future and to understand their sense of agency to contribute to the changes that they want to see.
The findings show that most of the respondents reported nearly similar interference of climate change and Covid-19 on their mental wellbeing. Their climate concern and Covid-19 concern scores were comparable.
Tangible experiences of extreme weather events that were personally experienced or that impacted their family members had a negative impact on their lives. On the other hand, action around improving the environment had a positive impact.
Loss of income, loss of mobility and loss of social contact due to Covid-19 had negative impacts on the respondents, while indulging in leisure activities and bonding with the family had positive impacts.
Although the majority of the participants reported having both climate and Covid agency, it did not translate into action to improve the environment.
“Young people’s activism on climate change and Covid-19 has a positive impact on their mental wellbeing hence more opportunities and platforms must be provided to enable young people to take action on both these crises,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
The study emphasises the importance of involving young people in action to mitigate the effects of climate change and Covid-19, giving them a sense of purpose, and building resilience to deal with the stress and strains that adverse climate events or pandemics might throw their way.
It also highlighted the importance of collaboration between policymakers and citizens to create a country that is not just resilient to the negative impacts of pandemics and climate change, but also proactive in preventing them.