By Legal Futures’ Associate Future Climate Info
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 was led by the University of York and the National Centre for Social Research and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It 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.
In this period (December 2013 to March 2014) there were:
- More than four million flood warnings
- More than 10,000 properties left underwater.
- 1 in 20 survey respondents said they lived in a storm or flood damaged home in the last six months.
In this clip from ITV Border News, Linda, from Carlisle, says the devastation Storm Desmond left behind four years ago still affects her today.
The study found that people whose homes had experienced damage were around 50% more likely to report poor mental health.
Analysts then looked into incidences of common mental health disorders (CMD), from depression and phobias, to anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Their research found storm related damage was significantly associated with CMD, suicidal ideation and previous suicide attempts.
Recognise lasting mental health impacts
The 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’.
It should be recognition that protecting communities from floods is far more than building physical barriers, but looking after the mental effects too.
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.
A year after the devastating 2007 floods, some 5,500 residents of Hull were still not back in their homes, with 1400 living in caravans. The time taken to clean out, dry out, investigate, estimate repairs and renovate property took its toll on the population.
The damage caused in Hull was put at more than £40m and ultimately affected over 10,000 properties, leading to an independent review of the region’s flood defences and millions spent on flood improvements.
However, more than a decade on BBC Humberside re-visited residents and businesses, where it was clear that they were still dealing with the knock-on effects.
Former Hedon resident, Sally Johnson said: “A friend is still finding problems with her home. When it rains she goes outside to monitor it to make sure it isn’t flooding. It impacts the rest of your life.”
Adapt or move out?
The findings come after another study declared that Storm Desmond in 2015 was our worse storm in 600 years on the basis of soil sampling, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/esp.4650
They are indicative of a worsening trend that could have an even greater impact on the mental health of affected communities in future years as the climate continues to change.
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.
Our recent blog on the coastal community in Fairbourne, Gwynedd, becoming possibly the first UK climate refugees is a clear case in point. The same could be true for communities along our east and southern coasts, as well as communities regularly affected by flooding like Carlisle.
And with 90% of Hull standing below the high-tide line, can the UK’s 2017 city of culture be retrofitted against disaster – or should its people think about moving on?
Understand the Real Risk
Moving into an area with a potential flood risk means that homebuyers must be more forensic about how it could affect their physical and mental well-being.
As part of the due diligence searches, conveyancers must be able to trust that the data and supporting guidance provides the clearest possible picture of future flooding. This must be based on a close examination of the past extents, claims, soil and slope profile, as well as accounting for climate change allowances and this could impact on communities in terms of extreme flooding.
At Future Climate Info, we build all of this into our residential environmental reports, so you don’t need to get a separate flood report. Not only that, but where a flood risk is identified, you and your client can then access our specialist flood risk services to more forensically identify if the risk could affect your client in years to come.
For more information, contact us on 01732 755180 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org