Climate change is increasingly causing mental health problems among college students

Grace van Deelen, Research Intern at Tufts University Office of Sustainability 

Recently, colleges and universities are witnessing a sharp increase in the number of students seeking mental health treatment. In line with the national trend, Tufts University has seen a notable increase in the number of students with significant and ongoing mental health needs.  

In response to increased needs for mental health resources, Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco launched the Mental Health Task Force in 2016. After undertaking extensive research on the mental health needs trends in all four campuses, the Mental Health Task Force reported in 2019 that students are suffering from increasing mental health issues, particularly those related to anxiety and severe stress. 

While the Report of the Mental Health Task Force did not mention the environment as a possible contributing reason, climate change’s associated mental health risks could be responsible for this sharp increase in the number of students with mental health needs. Climate change causes mental health disorders in multiple ways, either directly or indirectly, and affects even those of us who do not live in places experiencing climate-change-induced natural disasters. Here are some of the following ways that climate change affects mental well-being: 

Immediate or long-term exposure to climate-induced natural disasters has been proven to cause multiple mental health disorders.  

The most common varieties of mental health disorders caused by this direct experience with climate change are post-traumatic stress disorders, increased levels of anxiety, depression, increases in aggressive behavior and domestic violence, and self-harm that might lead to suicidal ideation and substance abuse. In fact, according to a 2016 study from the American Psychological Association, 25-50% of people exposed to an extreme weather disaster are at risk of adverse mental health effects.  

Climate change can cause a feeling of loss or grief for a changing world 

While the direct mental health impacts of climate-change-induced traumatic events are important, climate change can cause mental health impacts in individuals who have not experienced such events, as well. Even the tiny changes in one’s environment, such as a decrease in yearly snowfall, or a shifting of other familiar seasonal markers, can create a sense of anxiety. One paper by Wooster College Psychology Professor Susan Clayton described climate anxiety as a “loss of ontological security,” which is a feeling that one’s knowledge, way of being, or understanding of the world is no longer true due to the landscape changes that climate change can cause. Other vocabulary that describes this feeling include: solastalgia, a type of loss that happens when people become less familiar with the place in which they live, biospheric concern, a type of anxiety that happens when people perceive animals or plants in danger, and eco-anxiety, a feeling of loss, helplessness, and frustration caused by climate change, according to Paolo Cianconi, a neuroscience professor at Catholic University in Rome, Italy. 

Climate change causes anxiety and worry about the future among young people.  

This climate anxiety or “eco-anxiety,” according to the American Psychological Association, is a leading cause of worry among young adults and college students. The unpredictability of climate change increases worry and anxiety in college students because they tend to be young people who spend much of their time planning for the future. A 2018 Gallup poll of 4,103 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that 70% of 18- to-34 year-olds worry “a great deal” about global warming, compared to 63% of adults aged 35- to-54 and 56% of adults aged 55 and older. A national poll by Clayton in 2019 found that 57% of teens said that “climate change makes them feel afraid.” The same poll found that “a small, but not inconsequential, proportion of the public (17-27%) reported a degree of climate anxiety that was having some impact on their ability to function.” In general, younger age groups worry more about climate change than older adults.  

Climate change is making young people re-think their life plans.  

A 2020 Washington Post article quoted an 18-year-old from Alabama on the confounding stresses of college life during the climate crisis; “The ice caps are melting and my hypothetical children won’t get to see them, but also I have a calculus test tomorrow.” This is a familiar feeling among college students, and having children is becoming a widespread topic of concern among young people. This trend is evidenced by movements such as the BirthStrike movement, a worldwide movement of people refusing to have children due to the ecological crisis. A New York Times poll in 2018 found that “25% of the 1,800 Americans surveyed said they expected to have fewer children than they considered ideal; of these, 33% cited worry about climate change.” 

Climate change’s mental health impacts will continue to be more widespread.  

As climate change accelerates, the mental health impacts of climate change will not only be limited to young people and those who have experienced climate-induced traumatic events. As climate change becomes more widespread and serious, so will its mental health impacts, according to a paper by Policy Analyst Dr. Katie Hayes. For example, while the Boston area has been spared from the most severe hurricanes and wildfires recently, it can expect to see continued increases in sea levels, extreme precipitation, and extreme high temperatures in the future, according to Boston Research Advisory Group’s 2016 report . Even though Tufts may seem far away from these events at the moment, climate-induced natural disasters will become more common in the future. Furthermore, is important to note that many Tufts students either live in or have family in parts of the world that are experiencing climate disasters far more frequently than the Boston area, and are therefore susceptible to the immediate mental health impacts that these events can bring.  

Individual and institutional commitments to climate activism, along with climate literacy among counselors, can help to alleviate these climate-induced mental health problems, according to Yale Climate Connections. Part of the efforts to alleviate these mental health issues among college students should include initiatives from universities that display a commitment to meaningful climate action, in addition to improving campus mental health resources. 

An annotated bibliography of literature pertaining to this topic can be found here.

Get outside! A brief overview of local greenspaces

Written by Colette Smith

After a few months of social distancing at home, many are yearning to soak in the summer weather and explore the outdoors. One great way to get outside is to visit some of your local greenspaces. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, greenspace includes “any open piece of land that is undeveloped (has no buildings or other built structures) and is accessible to the public… [and] is partially or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation.” Specific examples of greenspaces include areas such as public parks, community gardens, walking, biking, or hiking trails, and even cemeteries. Greenspaces have a range of benefits, from individual and community health benefits to environmental sustainability. Below, we break down some great greenspace options near Tufts, the benefits of greenspace, and some tips for staying safe outdoors. 

 Although Boston ranks low among large cities for greenspace density, with only 168 feet per resident, there are still plenty of options to get outside and absorb the summer air for those of you still around Tufts. The Tufts campus itself has a lot of greenspaces, such as the President’s Lawn or the academic quad, where you can lay out in the sun and enjoy the warm weather. One of my favorite things to do in the nice weather is grab lunch from Hodge and sit out on the President’s Lawn with my friends. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Tufts_University_-_Garden%2C_presidents_lawn.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tufts_University_-_Garden,_presidents_lawn.jpg

Another greenspace that is only 2 miles from campus is Middlesex Fells. Professor Ninian Stein took my Introduction to Environmental Studies class here for a field trip last semester. I was astonished at how close it was to the somewhat urban environment near Tufts. It offers a wide variety of activities like hiking, renting a boat, riding a bike on one of the bike trails, or visiting the dog park. 

https://rootsrated.com/boston-ma/hiking/middlesex-fells-reservation-hiking

Another local option is Nathan Tufts Park, located just across from Tufts at Powderhouse circle. This park features the seventeenth-century Old Powder House, which was built as a windmill but has served many purposes throughout the years. Today, you can walk-through, picnic, or be active on this historical greenspace. 

https://do617.com/venues/nathan-tufts-park-in-powderhouse-square

If you would like to get off campus to explore the greater Boston area instead, there are some really great places you can go. One gorgeous option is the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Greenway features a 1.5 mile long path through central downtown and the waterfront. Walking along you will see outdoor artworks and performances.

https://www.bostoncentral.com/fun-things-to-do-rose-kennedy-greenway

Another iconic Boston greenspace is the Boston Common. This area of land used to be a cow pasture, but it has been an important place for the city throughout the years serving as a site for a wide variety of occasions. Founded in 1634, the Boston Common is a great place to go for a stroll or to sit and have a picnic.

The next option, located at 695 Hillside St. in Milton, the Blue Hills Reservation is a great place to go for a hike since it has great options for all hiking experience levels. It includes 125 miles of stunning, scenic trails that will take you through a variety of landscapes from marshes to meadows. There are many different route options so make sure to pick up a map!

https://tclf.org/blue-hills-reservation

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, greenspaces have been reported to improve both mental health/well-being as well as physical health, since they provide opportunities for urban dwellers to get active. From an environmental perspective, the benefits of greenspaces include air quality improvements, natural ecosystems, reduction of noise, and better storm drainage. A final advantage of having greenspaces is that they have been shown to foster increased social interaction as people visit these sites and get to meet other people in their community face to face. 

Finally: don’t forget to stay vigilant! Greenspaces are a great opportunity to get outdoors amidst the COVID quarantine and are relatively safe thanks to the open air. Still, you must social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands frequently. Also, don’t forget sunscreen and bug repellant!

How to Start Commuting by Bike

A commuter on their daily route. Image by Luca Rogoff.

Written by Elisa Sturkie

It’s been over two months since most of us have been able to safely head into work, and even longer since we could ride the T without thinking of the threat posed by COVID-19. For some, remote work is coming to an end: with Massachusetts entering into phase one of reopening on May 25th, Tufts researchers will be getting back into their labs, and some offices can resume work at a reduced capacity. Yet, with the Baker-Polito administration admitting that public transportation “unavoidably creates some risk” for COVID-19 transmission, many are still wary of taking the T.   

This is where the Office of Sustainability can help! With spring in full swing, there is no better time to maintain social distancing and start your bike commute. Somerville is ranked fifth nationally in number of biking commuters per capita, and is especially friendly to new bikers–something I know firsthand. Also, Massachusetts is the fifth most bike-friendly state in America, with Boston earning a “Silver” as a Bike Friendly Community. I started biking to work last summer for the first time, and it helped me to be healthier, more sustainable, and to explore new trails and bike paths in my community. I really couldn’t recommend it more. So, how do you get started planning your bike commute?  

1. Get a bike!  

In need of a bike? There are plenty of ways to purchase a bike sustainably in the Boston area–and many of them will also save you a little money! I got my bike used from Facebook Marketplace for a little over $50 in a move-out sale. Craigslist also has used bikes you can buy from neighbors, and until retail reopens, Cambridge Used Bicycles is conducting online bike sales with free delivery options within a five-mile radius of their store.  

Buying something used is of course more sustainable, but if you’d like a new bike, go to your local bike shop or buy from a smaller vendor online rather than from a big box store if you can. Here are the most environmentally conscious bike brands. Also, if your commute is actually pretty far and you have some money to spend, an electric bike will help you get to work fast, without all the sweat. If you’re trying to decide on a road bike, hybrid, or upright, check out this helpful webpage

Be sure to buy a helmet and bike lock! U locks are the most recommended form of lock, as they are much harder to cut through than cable locks, which prevents bike theft. 

Have a bike you need to fix up? Bike Boom in Davis Square is open for tune-ups and bike assembly, and now offers a contactless bike pickup and delivery service. Loads of other Boston-area bike shops are open now too. 

Not sure you want to commit to buying a bike? Join Blue Bikes and take out a shared bike whenever you like, without any of the upkeep! Speaking of upkeep… 

2. Take care of your bike!  

So now you’ve bought a bike. How do you keep it in good shape? It’s as simple as ABC: Air, Brakes, and Chain. Make sure you keep the right amount of air in your bike’s tires. Check the sidewall of your bike’s tires to be sure you know the correct amount of air pressure, and keep a bike pump and patch kit handy in case of a flat. Next, check your front and rear brakes to be sure they engage properly. Finally, keep your bike’s chain lubricated and clean to extend the life of your bike!  REI has some great how-to videos on the bike basics if you’d like a step by step.  

3. Plan and practice your route.  

When biking to work, never underestimate the importance of a practice run. I did and ended up sweaty and astonishingly early to work for most of my first week as a bike commuter. Be sure you know your route and what you need to commute comfortably and safely– even if that means packing a change of clothes. You’ll thank yourself later. Want some help planning your route? Trail map is here to help! You can also use Google Maps (click on the bike image), or if you work on one of Tufts’ Boston campuses, you can sign up for a Ride Amigos account here, and use their platform to plan your trip. 

4. Stay safe on the road!  

Lastly and most importantly, read up on cycling road signs and the rules of road biking. Hand signals are essential! When turning left, stick your left arm out straight; for a right turn, signal with your left arm, but bend your elbow ninety degrees (as if you are about to give someone a high five). It’s also important to be visible to cars, especially if biking at night (bike lights and reflective gear are a must!). Bikes are more vulnerable than cars and learning bike safety is the most important part of biking. Be a cautious rider, always being aware of your surroundings and stopping at red lights. Try to ride on roads with bike lanes and bike trails, or roads with bike sharrows, if there are no bike lanes near you, always ride closer to the right side of the road. Roads are safer for you than sidewalks, trust me! 

Have more questions? The Office of Sustainability has a great webpage about biking at Tufts, and a quick bike guide which might help, and we’re happy to take questions! Now that you have all the basics, hopefully you’ll be able to make the jump to a bike commute with confidence. Soon you’ll be exploring new bike paths, maintaining social distance in the fresh air, and getting to work sustainably! 

Move-Out in the Age of Coronavirus

A rainy day at the Lower Campus Move Out Station at Haskell Hall by Latin Way.

A Sudden Twist: Gearing up for a March Move Out

Each year, the Office of Sustainability (OOS) runs a robust donation collection program throughout the month of May, when students are moving out, finals are done, the air is warm, and folks are gearing up for their summer internships.

Student Move Out this year was anything but normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It came as a surprise to everyone when the University announced on the evening of March 10th that all students would have to move entirely out of their on-campus residence halls by 3:00 pm on March 16th.

The OOS’s annual donation program serves to divert good items from the landfill and to instead provide them to students and community members who will use them. Even in light of early Move-Out, we still wanted to maintain our sustainability values and help the Tufts community and its neighbors.

Due to the pandemic, the first step was to consult with a health expert at Tufts about whether it would be safe to collect donations at all and if so, what. There were select items that we could not collect this year because we could not sanitize them or because they are not high demand and there was limited time/capacity.  

Still, our entire office—from staff to recycling interns to communications interns—rallied together and made some magic happen. In the first day after the Move-Out announcement was made, we quickly created a donation station schedule, recruited and hired workers to help, rented vehicles, planned donation rules and two donation collection stations, ordered supplies, and secured a space for donation storage. Facilities quickly requested open top dumpsters to be placed around campus to accommodate the increased trash flow.

Early Move Out In-Action: New and Improved Collaborations

We even tried something new: due to the short notice, we were not able to get the trailers that we normally use to collect textiles. Instead, we collaborated with the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) to provide blue bags to students in residence hall lobbies, which they could use to store their clothing donations and leave them in their rooms, along with mini fridges labeled as donations. We also provided clear and black liners that students could use to take their recycling and trash out to the dumpsters and leave the space clean for the custodians.

Another pleasant surprise was a new collaboration with the Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative (TFRC). The TFRC was working with multicultural offices and Tufts Mutual Aid to create a food pantry available to the Tufts community during this difficult time (and when many store shelves were empty!). We collected almost 1,000 lbs of non-perishable food donations for the pantry.

Over the course of the week, we hired 30 student workers to help during the day and evening. Most were students who lived off-campus, had some free time due to extended spring break, and had discontinued jobs or internships. The donations program would not have been possible without the workers: they were patient, independent, and good-spirited (even in the cold!).

With their help, we were able to not only run the stations for long hours, but also to transport all donations to our storage space and sort them into categories there. Some of them even came with us to retrieve donations from the residence halls on the Health Sciences and SMFA campuses in Boston. We were lucky that we already had enough gloves and other PPE in storage before COVID-19, and that our workers were both social distancing warriors and heavy-lifting champions.

A Job Well Done (and a nap for all!)

A truck on a city street

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Morning time at the Upper Campus Donation Station in the Carmichael Parking Lot.

In the end, we diverted 6.42 tons (12,833 lbs) of donations from the landfills during Early Move Out. These donations will be provided to FIRST Resource Center students, the general Tufts student body, and/or to local non-profits/charities.

The quick planning it took to make this happen was not possible without collaboration from our office’s staff and interns, Facilities, TUPD, Auxillary Services, The Office of Residential Life and Learning, the FIRST Resource Center, the Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative, and campus’s hardworking custodial staff.

Early Move Out by the Numbers

We collected 6.42 tons (12,833 lbs) during March, including:

  • 303 lbs of sanitation/health items
  • 3,291 lbs of food and kitchen items/appliances
  • 1,786 lbs of home supplies such as vacuums, mirrors, lamps, and storage bins
  • 5,683 lbs of clothes
  • 881 lbs of furniture
  • 50 lbs of miscellaneous items

Student workers hired: 30

Total student hours worked: 267.5

Total last-minute rentals: 1 U-Haul box-truck, 1 U-Haul van, 2 U-pods

Total last-minute purchases: 1 Facebook ad, 6 rolls of packing tape, and granola bars!

Total acquisitions: We attained 6 sandbags—very handy to put in the donation collection bins on windy/rainy days. (Thanks Facilities!)

Total handy reuse strategies: We can’t forget about the 2 gaylords we had in storage from last year, or the 10 slim jims that we used as donation collection bins at the donation stations (we had attempted to order cardboard boxes for 1-day delivery, but they never arrived). We were also able to reuse donation items to organize our supplies and donations.

Total signs: We used or created 15 types of signs: 9 different signs for each of the donation collection streams, 1 for U-Pods (students could leave donations in there overnight), 1 yard sign for the upper campus donation station, 1 for the lower, 1 yard sign directing folks to dumpsters, 1 banner for recycling dumpsters, and 1 banner for trash dumpsters.

Total social media posts: 1 blog post, 2 Instagram/Twitter/FB posts, an Instagram story takeover, and a Move Out email to students from ORLL.

And finally: 1 wild 70-hour work week from our Recycling Fellow!

A group of people standing in a room

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Specialty Recycling Intern turned Move Out worker collects donations from a student.

Update: May Move Out Day!

Despite Early Move-Out, some juniors and seniors stayed in their off campus apartments to finish off the academic year. As the end of May–and a lease-period–drew near, two of our interns, Serena and Elyssa, became aware of how many items they would have to put into trash dumpsters as they and their housemates moved out, especially with public donation venues closed due to the COVID-19.

At their initiative, we were able to organize a one-time May donation collection station for remaining students. The event was organized in just a day and announced online. A few dozen students came, masks and all, to donate their textbooks, fans, toaster ovens, excess cleaning supplies, entire dish-ware sets, storage units, and mini-fridges!

In just a 4-hour window, we collected an additional 894 lbs. We also collected 6,845 additional pounds of Move Out textile donations during May, bringing our 2020 Move Out total to 20,572.25 lbs and 10.29 tons!

A More Sustainable Barnum Hall

The Jumbo statue in front of Barnum Hall. (Jake Belcher/Tufts University)

Barnum Hall has recently undergone major renovations, making the building one of the most up-to-date on the Tufts’ Campus. Not to mention, the holy trinity of environmentally-focused departments are located within Barnum’s newly upgraded corridors: The Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), the Office of Sustainability (OOS) and the Environmental Studies department. The improved Barnum also houses Tisch College, which focuses on civic and political engagements, and has many programs related to the social aspects and impacts of sustainability. 

Before the renovation, Barnum was a less than environmentally preferable academic building. In April 1975, the tragic Barnum fire took place, burning the former natural history museum to a crisp. Tufts hurriedly rebuilt it in 1976 with little funds. These quick fixes led to problems in the future. The 2018-19 Barnum revamping resolved many of the faulty features. 

According to Trina Jerich, the project manager of the Barnum renovations, her team “Took everything that was amazing about [Barnum’s] history and melded it with modern feels.”  

Here are some of the sustainability features and overall improvements now found in Barnum:  

  • An Energy Recovery Unit (ERU) 
    • This new state-of-the art heating and cooling system is perched atop the building. This unit takes the heat from the air that is leaving the building and transfers it to the air that is entering the building. This maintains Barnum’s heating or cooling, while bringing in fresh air to be circulated throughout the building. This ventilation system is a sustainable way to reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality. 
  • Double-paned Windows 
    • The 1976 windows were single-paned and drafty, which made temperature control a nightmare. The new windows are double-paned, trapping a layer of air in between the two panes of glass. This provides insulation, prevents drafts, and keeps the building at the desired temperature.  
  • Occupancy Sensors: Lighting + Heating and Cooling 
    • Barnum’s new lighting and heating and cooling systems are controlled by occupancy sensors. These sensors detect the presence of people in a room. For example, if a room is occupied, heating or cooling is activated and the lights switch on. If that same room is vacant, both systems shut off. This saves energy since neither lights nor heating or cooling are left on. Light occupancy sensors extend the lifecycle of the bulbs, subsequently reducing waste.  
  • Low-flow Faucet Aerators and Metered Faucets 
    • Low-flow faucet aerators dilute water flow with air, which reduces the amount of water coming from the faucet. Metered faucets automatically stop water flow. This saves a significant amount of water, by simply using less!  

Other sustainable features include: low-impact recycled rubber flooring, water bottle-filling stations at every water fountain, and the reuse of the exterior of the existing building, which is made entirely from locally-sourced stone from the Everett-Revere area quarries.  

The Barnum renovators programmed sustainability right into the building, making it easier for every Barnum occupant to reduce their ecological footprints. The project manager, Trina, not only wanted to leave us with a more energy efficient Barnum, but with this: “We have to learn to live in a sustainable world.” In the end, it’s not only the responsibility of project managers to reduce our footprint in the built environment, but also up to the building users to learn to responsibly use resources.  

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