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Climate change's impact on youth mental health examined in OHA report

Oregon health officials discussed their findings at a press conference Tuesday morning, joined by several Oregon youth who shared their own experiences.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new report from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) examines the impact of climate change on youth and teen mental health, concluding that direct effects such as extreme weather events and slow progress from leaders both contribute to feelings of frustration, anxiety, despair and hopelessness.

Oregon health officials held a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss their findings, joined by several Oregon youth who shared their own experiences.

“As climate effects get worse, youth are becoming very worried about their future and the future of their younger siblings,” Julie Early Sifuentes, the report's lead author, said in a statement. “I hope this report gets more conversations going in communities across the state, about how we can join with youth in confronting these crises.”

The report was prompted by an executive order from Gov. Kate Brown directing state agencies to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It draws on literature, youth focus groups and interviews, according to an OHA news release.

RELATED: Students walk out of class Friday to participate in Portland climate strike

The report calls on political leaders, educators and mental health and environmental professionals take advantage of opportunities to support youth mental health, particularly by including youth in decision-making so they feel a greater sense of hope and agency.

Adults can also help by learning more about the connection between climate change and youth mental health and pursuing greater investments in school and community mental health services, according to the report.

Parents, therapists and educators also need to make an effort to listen to youth who are experiencing climate anxiety and not dismiss their concerns, said Dr. Meg Cary, who served as an adviser to the study.

“Listening means creating a space where the young people in your lives can express their full range of emotions, and it also means to join youth in engaging in actions and solutions,” she said. “For youth, I hope that they when they read this report, they feel heard and that they are not alone.”

RELATED: 'We're fighting for our futures': Thousands of Portland teens walk out, demanding action on climate change

The report comes as Oregon has seen an increasing number of youth and student walkouts, protests and ongoing movements to demand action on climate change.

In one recent example, thousands of students from across Portland walked out of class on May 20 to stage a rally for climate justice outside Portland City Hall. The protest singled out the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Portland Business Alliance, NW Natural and Zenith Energy as local "climate villains."

The local branch youth climate action group Sunrise Movement have staged ongoing protests and demonstrations to call for more urgency in cutting carbon emissions, including calling for a moratorium on freeway expansion and targeting ODOT's planned I-5 Rose Quarter Project.

Sunrise Movement PDX also staged a protest during President Joe Biden's visit to Portland in April, calling for Biden to show greater leadership on climate action at the federal level as well.

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