Background Climate change is increasing population exposure to weather-related hazards, such as extreme precipitation, storms, and flooding. There’s growing concern that such exposure affects people’s mental health. However, little evidence exists based on probability samples or using robust assessment of mental disorders.
Methods We analysed the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, a representative study of adults in England (n=7525). The most recent in the series asked about damage to the home (wind, rain, snow, flood) in the six months prior to interview. We investigated a) the social profile of those who experienced storm- and flood-damage, and b) whether experience of recent damage was independently associated with common mental disorder (CMD) after adjustment for other factors.
Results One person in twenty reported living in a storm or flood-damaged home in the previous six months (n=354). Social advantage (home ownership, higher household income) increased the odds of exposure. People whose homes had been damaged were more likely to have CMD (23.1%, 95%CI 18.5–28.4) than the rest of the population (16.7%, 95% CI:15.7–17.8, p=0.005). The strength of this association was similar to that of living in the most disadvantage Index of Multiple Deprivation quintile. Exposure was associated with CMD even when the damage had not forced them to leave the property. In adjusted regression analyses, recent exposure to living a storm or flood damaged home increased the odds of CMD by 50% (adjusted OR 1.5, 95% CI 1.08; 2.07, p=0.014).
Conclusion Even relatively slight storm and flood damage to people’s homes is linked with higher rates of CMD. With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of storms and flooding, improving community resilience and disaster preparedness must be a priority. Understanding the mental health context of exposed populations is key to building this capacity.
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