Exposure To Extreme Weather Events Can Negatively Affect Our Mental Health, Research Says
When an extreme weather event hits, there's a sort of subconscious checklist that may occur in your mind. Is everyone physically safe? Is the house damaged? How are the schools? The office?
According to the University of York and the National Centre for Social Research, there's another item to add to that checklist that's just as important: your mental health. Although measuring your mental health may be less tangible than noticing whether your windows are cracked or your car is still running, the anxiety associated with extreme weather events can be just as much of a casualty.
To understand the effects these weather events could have on mental health, these U.K. scientists analyzed data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), a large national mental health survey of people living in England that asked people whether their homes had been damaged by wind, rain, snow, or flood within the last six months. What they found was that people who did experience damage to their homes due to weather were around 50% more likely to experience poorer mental health.
To put these findings in perspective, the scientists concluded that the effects of experiencing weather damage to your home on mental health is strikingly similar to the mental health associated with living in a disadvantaged area. It makes sense, as the anxiety of losing one's home and livelihood is sure to take a toll on people's well-being, no matter their ZIP code or socioeconomic status.
"Exposure to extreme or even moderate weather events may result in 'psychological casualties' with significant impacts on mental health," Professor Hilary Graham, the lead author of the study, says in a news release. That being said, even if the damage is minor and does not require you to evacuate your home, your mental health can still suffer from the anxiety and trauma associated with a natural disaster.
These "psychological casualties" Graham mentions are very much real, and identifying their existence could pave the way for weather-event aid organizations to include mental health initiatives in their future relief procedures.
Graham agrees, as she says, "With extreme weather events on the rise due to climate change, environmental and health policies need to be brought much more closely together. This means recognizing that flood protection policies are also health protection policies and that better protecting communities from floods is also an investment in protecting their mental health."
As Hurricane Dorian persists in the Bahamas and makes its way to the U.S. coast, remember that supporting victims means more than providing shelter and clothing for the affected—while these actions are also essential, gauging people's mental health and making victims feel safe and empowered amid the category 5 devastation is just as important.
After all, weather damage to homes and infrastructure require physical repairs, and as Julie Foley, the director of flood risk strategy and national adaptation at the Environment Agency, says, "The impact of flooding on people is devastating and can last long after the floodwaters have gone away."
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