Mental health risk in storm, flood damage
People whose homes have recently been damaged by storms and floods may be 50 per cent more likely to experience mental health problems, a study has found.
Researchers from the University of York and the UK's National Centre for Social Research analysed more than 7500 responses to the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in England.
In the most recent survey in 2014/15, participants were asked for the first time if their home had been damaged by wind, rain, snow or flood in the last six months.
The period covered included four months of severe winter storms and extensive flooding (December 2013 to March 2014) in the UK, which saw more than 4.2 million flood warnings issued and over 10,000 residential properties flooded.
One in twenty of the respondents reported living in a storm or flood-damaged home in the previous six months.
Better-off groups were more likely to report having experienced the damage, due to being concentrated near rivers in the South East, while deprivation was associated with a greater risk of tidal flooding.
The researchers then assessed the database for incidences of common mental disorder (CMD), including depression, phobias, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts.
They found that storm and flood-related damage was significantly associated with CMD, suicidal ideation and previous suicide attempts, even when adjusting for other factors.
They did not find a meaningful link between reports of recent damage and PTSD.
People were more likely to experience poor mental health even when the damage was relatively minor and they were not forced to leave their homes, the study suggested.
The study's lead author, Professor Hilary Graham, from the department of health sciences at the University of York, said: "This study shows that exposure to extreme or even moderate weather events may result in 'psychological casualties' with significant impacts on mental health.
"This is reflective of the huge impact storms and flooding have on people's lives as alongside the physical damage to homes and businesses, there is the emotional damage to the sense of security that many people derive from their home."
Prof Graham added: "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 recognising 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."
The authors said they did not account for people who experienced flood or storm damage in their neighbourhood, which spared their own homes.
They said other studies had found an elevated risk of mental health difficulties in this wider group and that this may "moderate" the associations they identified between direct damage to the home and poorer mental health.
Australian Associated Press