Emotions, young people and climate distress

What do clinicians need to know?

Clinical psychology is ill-equipped to respond to climate distress, given the focus on personal pathology and cognitive models, rather than affect that relates to external, ecological events. We are now at a critical time in planetary history where the climate crisis is undeniable, and where eco-anxiety is becoming an almost universal experience. This is particularly the case in young people, who face the reality of a lifetime of severe and devastating climate events.

Headspace is the country’s leading mental health service for young people, aged 12-25, but as yet has no consistent approach to climate distress. Initiated by Jordan Koder, member of the Youth Advisory Committee at headspace Camperdown for this purpose, the aim of this project is to support a group of youth advisory leaders in headspace to develop a set of resources for headspace clinicians.

Using the methodology of Youth-Based Participatory Action Research, a qualitative research method that allows the development of practice through an iterative process of youth-led consultation, action and review, members of headspace Youth Advisory Committees will collaborate with members of the Sydney Environment Institute to develop a set of written, video and seminar-based resources for clinicians.

These resources will focus on the following issues:

  1. How is climate distress being experienced by youth?
  2. What interdisciplinary knowledge is available for the understanding of climate emotions?
  3. How might this be integrated with traditional clinical approaches to distress?
  4. What are the critical issues and approaches that young people want clinicians to acknowledge and include in their practice?


This project is supported by SEI’s 2022 Collaborative Project Fellowship scheme.

Contributors: Associate Professor Paul Rhodes, Dr James Dunk, Jordan Koder