Balancing the Climate and Mental Health Threats: Climate-anxiety Identification in Higher Education Institutions

Climate anxiety is a growing mental health issue among both lecturers and students in sustainability-related fields in Higher Education Institutions. The increase in climate anxiety in the recent years has contributed to the need of education institutions to address it properly, both by university Student Health Services and administrative units: to design learning environments and institutional processes that are conducive to coping with climate anxiety. Since climate anxiety is not clearly identified as a specific mental health threat within university borders, many students do not feel eligible to address the Student Health Services with their anxiety problems caused by climate change threats. The research project aims to identify climate anxiety issues among both lecturers and students in sustainability-related fields at Uppsala University with a specific focus on the campus Gotland, and to develop procedural recommendations for the university administration and Student Health Services on tackling this problem.

The research components: 

(1)    Analysis of perceptions, personal experience, and attitudes that students and lecturers in sustainability-related fields at Uppsala University (campus Gotland) have towards climate anxiety;

(2)    Analysis of climate anxiety related actions and work of the Student Health Service at Uppsala University (campus Gotland) and other Swedish universities; and 

(3)    Identifying, forming, and testing procedural recommendations for the university administration and Student Health Services on tackling climate anxiety issues.

The role of civil society and individuals in combating climate change is substantial. On the one hand, climate anxiety can paralyze us and prevent us from actually acting on climate change; on the other hand, it can be defined as “an adaptive response to the threat of climate change” (Comtesse et al. 2021), thus triggering positive actions to contribute global climate safety. Finding ways to cope with climate anxiety could be imperative in maintaining the mental health of university students. Here the campus Gotland can play a special societal role in both working for student mental health, and in moving the Gotland society - including university lecturers - towards sustainable futures by providing best practices to Region Gotland in terms of good procedures for climate anxiety problems. Building emotional and mental resilience for climate change is also useful for other mental health problems, such as the rise in depression and anxiety due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The topic of climate anxiety is ‘here to stay’ and Higher Education Institutions need to strengthen both students and lecturers for the future, so that they feel healthy and able to combat climate change involving local societal actors.

Duration: 2021-2023
Funders: Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Uppsala University


Oleksandra Khalaim

Researcher at Department of Women's and Children's Health, Swedesd - Sustainability Learning and Research Centre

Last modified: 2022-02-14