The impact of drought on mental health and alcohol use
Around twelve percent of people who were currently in an area affected by drought have mental health problems compared to seven percent in areas which haven’t been hit by drought in the last three years according to this paper.
Note: This paper was given at the 2009 Australian Social Policy Conference and is only in slide format as a PDF at this stage.
The most recent drought has been one of the most severe on record with large parts of southern and eastern Australia experiencing dry conditions since 1996. There have been few large studies that examine the impact of drought upon the mental health and alcohol use of people living in regional and rural areas of Australia or other developed countries.
We use the Rural and Regional Families study, a cross-sectional study of 8,000 people from rural and regional areas of Australia that interviewed people in areas that were in severe drought, drought, below average and above average rainfall. We compare working age people who were in drought (as defined by rainfall and also self report) to those that were not in drought. We use regression models to adjust for demographics that would not be expected to be affected by drought to estimate the impact of drought on the mental health problems, mental health, anti-depressant use for stress and alcohol use.
One of the primary mechanisms by which mental health and alcohol abuse problems arise during and after a drought is through the financial impact associated with decreased agricultural productivity in rural areas. While the drought of 2002-2007 had significant negative economic impact on the Australian economy it had particularly large effects on financial hardship in regions affected - especially among farmers (Edwards et al. 2009). We discuss our findings of the impact of drought on mental health and alcohol use in this context and the possible policy implications.