Google searches related to “climate anxiety” are at a record high after steadily increasing over the past five years, the search giant said in an email to TIME.
Searches worldwide related to “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety” increased by 4,590% from 2018 to 2023, according to the company’s data. The two most commonly Googled questions were “What is eco anxiety?” and “How to deal with climate anxiety?”
Searches in English on the topic were 27 times higher in the first 10 months of 2023 than during the same time period in 2017, according to the BBC, which reported the data on Nov. 22. In Portuguese, searches skyrocketed by 73 times during that time.
The analysis didn’t measure the total volume of searches, but looked at a sample to identify the popularity of a trend over time around the world, and adjusted data to compare countries with different population sizes.
Climate, or eco, anxiety is loosely defined as a “chronic fear of environmental doom,” mental distress or anxiety associated with worsening environment conditions or negative emotions related to climate change. The anxiety can manifest itself through a range of emotions—anger, guilt, sadness, fear, hopelessness—and physical symptoms such as insomnia, Emma Lawrance, mental health lead at Climate Cares Centre at London’s Imperial College, told TIME in a phone call.
Awareness of climate anxiety has been increasing in recent years, as extreme weather has swept across the U.S. and wildfires have turned skies orange from California to New York. News website Grist reported that Google searches for the term rose 565 percent from 2020 to 2021.
Psychologists have long acknowledged the mental health impacts of climate change and have offered resources and tips on how to cope. In an essay for TIME, Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, argued that climate anxiety can threaten one’s ability to function, and recommended acknowledging and sharing negative emotions with others, while balancing negativity with positive feelings and breaks from the news, if possible.
Existential fear around climate change has led European activists such as U.K. group Just Stop Oil, which says that human-induced climate change “will destroy human civilisation unless emergency action is taken,” to stage protest actions, resulting in mass arrests recently.
The BBC analyzed publicly-available Google Trends’ data to find that search trends for eco-anxiety were highest in Nordic countries, with Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway accounting for more than 40% of searches. The report noted searches were likely higher among speakers of languages who Google more often and have a greater awareness of climate anxiety, not necessarily reflecting the most greatly impacted countries.
Data shows that Earth’s poorest populations bear the brunt of climate change.
The world’s 46 least developed countries, home to about 1.1 billion people, accounted for less than 4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, the United Nations reported in 2022. But in the past 50 years, these countries suffered 69% of worldwide deaths caused by climate-related disasters, the U.N. said.
The U.K. ranked 10th among countries in the world for climate anxiety searches in the last five years, while the U.S. ranked 16th, according to Google.
Around 7% of American adults are experiencing at least mild levels of climate change-related psychological distress, according to a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in July. That includes 3% experiencing severe depression and/or anxiety, based on clinical indicators. The study was the first of its kind, but program’s founder and director Anthony Leiserowitz told TIME in a phone call he expected those numbers to rise.
A much larger group, and one that’s steadily increased over the past decade, were worried about climate change. About two-thirds of Americans said they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming in the program’s latest report in spring 2023. That included 30% who are “very worried.” Thirteen percent of Americans expressed the belief that it is “already too late to do anything about global warming.”
A not-yet-published study Lawrance discussed with TIME found that a third of young people in America, who had experienced a climate-related event, were scared to have children because of the climate crisis, compared to one fifth who didn’t experience a similar event.
Her and others’ study among young people in the U.K. this year showed that 10% of individuals with high climate distress worried about the impact of climate change on their own future more than anything else, including personal finances, relationships, jobs or politics.
On the positive side, Leiserowitz and Lawrance both said worry can galvanize collective climate action, which can also lead to better mental health as people take change into their own hands.
“The single best antidote for climate anxiety is action,” Leiserowitz said.
Lawrance said young people’s concerns need to be validated, not dismissed, by adults, and policymakers need to “listen to these voices and take this seriously.” For many youth, she said, the anxiety is “not the climate crisis itself, it’s knowing not enough is being done about it.” Leiserowitz encouraged those with severe climate-related depression or anxiety to seek professional help.“They should not just be trying to tough this out by themselves,” he advised.
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