“It is like day and night, an incredible transformation”: how climate activism can solve teenage mental health


The quotes in the headline come from the teenage climate icon Greta Thunberg’s father, commenting on how much her mental health - as a girl with Asperger’s - improved when she took up climate activism. And this excellent article from Marta Brzosko on Medium explores how the epidemic of mental health problems for modern teens may well be addressed through the joys and efforts of climate activism.

An excerpt, beginning with the writer meeting 16-year old Małgosia Andruszkiewicz — the main organiser of the 15th March School Strike for Climate in Białystok, Poland:

I think that we are the first generation raised in awareness of how big of an impact we can have in the globalized society”, says Malgosia. “Although school education doesn’t teach us that, we have access to all the information online. This is where we learn about the climate crisis and other current issues.”

…“On the Friday strike, I met over 200 people who agree with me, and who think the way I think. I saw clearly that I am not alone in this, and I said to myself: ‘See? You’re not a weirdo for thinking that climate change is a huge issue. There are so many good people around you who think the same — and want to act, too!’ I met people from primary school who I never thought would show up on an event like this. And suddenly, we were all in this together! This was very inspiring.”

The sense of unity seems to be a way out of problems such as isolation, depression and loneliness that so many young people face these days. The climate strikes give them the best imaginable cause to gather around: the survival and thriving of the human race. I mean, how can you not support that?

And the thing is, you don’t need to be “outgoing,” “popular” or one of the “cool kids” to join. Even an “invisible girl” (as Greta Thunberg refers to herself) can find a sense of belonging and purpose here. Better yet, she can become the leader of the whole movement!

It is easy for anyone to find their place in the climate strikes because everybody’s welcome here. And every single person counts.

I certainly felt that when I joined the local school strike on the 15th of March. Regardless of the cause that I wholeheartedly support, I just wanted to be one those “kids.” It is an innate human need to belong. And I never really had this need met when I was a teenager.

Maybe I can make it up to my teenage self now, by tagging along with the climate school strike?

There follows an interesting passage when the writer Marta, now in her late 20s, describes her own listless, frustrated teenage hood in the 90’s - always getting up to stunts and tricks, always looking out for adventure, always contemptuous of the workaday norms expected from them:

My teenagehood was not a terrible one, but a rather typical mixture of dreaming, experimentation and drama. What I remember vividly was a drive to be a part of something meaningful together with my friends. The drive that was never satisfied.

This memory arises in me these days when I talk to Małgosia and join the teens on their strike. I remember how I used to skip school for no legit reason — but definitely in search of something. Now the reason these kids have is more than legit. They are skipping school to save the world.

I mean, how cool is that when you’re 16?

Malgosia concludes with the obvious paradox - one which the kids transcend, by their active commitments

“I often see the following problem: adults accuse the youth of not being engaged enough, of being ignorant. And then once we actually start doing something, they say: ‘what do you know, you are just a teenager…’ But if we are not engaged now, then we are not building the civil society which is critical in any democratic system.”

More here. And this piece from Science News for Students confirms that activism is one of the best ways to turn young people’s grief and despair about climate breakdown into a constructive, social behaviour:

Other students may be great teachers, researchers, letter-writers or organizers for energy-saving programs. And everyone can practice energy conservation. That helps set social norms, Van Susteren says — meaning what’s normal and socially acceptable. “So there is a job for everyone,” she says.

Keep in mind that you’re not alone. “Find you teammates, your kindred spirits,” Van Susteren recommends. These are people “who are going to go the distance with you,” she notes.