People whose homes are damaged by extreme weather events like flooding are far more likely to suffer mental health problems, new research has found.
The study, led by the University of York and the National Centre for Social Research, found that experiencing weather damage to one’s home, even if it is relatively minor, is as much of a risk to mental health as living in a disadvantaged area.
Researchers concluded that with storms and floods likely to become more frequent and intense due to climate change, emergency planning for extreme weather events should include mental health support for those affected.
Professor Hilary Graham, the lead author of the study 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.’
The researchers analysed data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), the leading source of information on the mental health of people living in England.
People were asked in 2014 whether their home had been damaged by wind, rain, snow or flood in the last six months – just after the UK had endured severe winter storms and extensive flooding during the previous winter.
The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that people whose homes had experienced damage were around 50% more likely to report poor mental health.
Scientists said that with the number of properties in the UK at risk of flooding set to increase over the coming years, environmental and health policies should be brought together ‘much more closely’.
Professor Graham added: ‘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.’
Julie Foley, director of flood risk strategy & national adaptation at the Environment Agency, said: ‘The impact of flooding on people is devastating, and can last long after the flood waters have gone away.
‘People can be out of their homes for months or even years, and the impacts are even wider if businesses, schools and transport routes are affected. This research highlights how the consequences of flooding can have a significant impact on mental health wellbeing.’
The Environment Agency previously issued a stark warning that flooding may become so bad over the coming years that some of the worst-hit towns may have to be abandoned for good.
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