Judy Wu, a first year FHS PhD candidate, won the Best Podium Presentation Award at a recent symposium for her project "Climate concern, climate anxiety, and eco-anxiety in BC youth: Findings from the Youth Development Instrument (YDI).” Background photo: jcomp

FHS PhD student wins award for presentation at environmental health symposium

February 02, 2023

by Sharon Mah

Judy Wu, a PhD candidate at the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences, was recognized with the Best Podium Presentation award at the recent 2023 Cascadia Symposium on Environmental, Occupational, and Population Health in Blaine, Washington.

Wu’s presentation, “Climate concern, climate anxiety, and eco-anxiety in BC youth: Findings from the Youth Development Instrument (YDI),” highlighted the distinctions between climate concern, climate anxiety and eco-anxiety and presented data from the YDI that demonstrated the prevalence of these three conditions in BC youth. She also identified possible areas for concern with respect to youth mental health in her presentation.

“The [data I presented] is the beginning of my doctoral work which seeks to not just understand prevalence, but also aims to identify associated factors of climate/eco-anxiety in youth.”

Climate concern describes general worry about climate change and its impacts, whereas climate/eco-anxiety can be broadly characterized as heightened mental distress and anxiety associated with the climate and ecological crises. More specifically, climate anxiety is related to mental distress related to climate change while eco-anxiety can be related to broader environmental issues such as resource depletion and pollution, although the terms are often used interchangeably within media and in literature.

Climate and eco-anxiety can manifest as excessive rumination about environmental issues, disruptions to daily functioning (e.g., sleeping, working, studying), and experience of emotional experiences such as crying and hopelessness.

Researchers at the CHART (Capturing Health and Resilience Trajectories) lab, including Wu, have been using the self-report YDI questionnaire to engage with youth aged 16-17 in British Columbia. The tool – which reached 2,350 youth in 2021 and 9,255 participants in 2022 – asks questions about the participants’ social well being, learning environment and engagement, and physical and mental well-being and also poses timely questions about significant events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Wu’s research found that approximately 80 per cent of participants in the 2021 and 2022 surveys expressed worry about climate change and its consequences, exhibiting climate concern. When probed about their experiences of climate anxiety, a smaller percentage of respondents – 48.8 per cent – reported experiencing climate anxiety in 2021. The following year in 2022, 55.6 per cent of BC youth described experiencing of eco-anxiety within two weeks of completing the survey.

“Analyzing the results from the YDI questionnaires, we found climate anxiety in youth to be significantly correlated with generalized anxiety, depression, and climate concern, as well as being negatively correlated with measures of positive mental health,” says Wu. "As we begin to discuss the health impacts of the climate and ecological crises more comprehensively, mental health must be put at the forefront along with physical health impacts, and particularly in youth.”

In addition to identifying sub-populations of BC youth who are experiencing climate/eco-anxiety frequently and/or severely, Wu’s research hopes to also inform the development of supportive resources to help youth cope with their emotions, and feel empowered and motivated to engage in transformative action. 

“Young people are our future leaders who will continue propelling climate action and planetary health work. Making investments to improve their mental health and wellbeing will provide dividends now and in the future.”