The California drought and its impact on mental health
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The current drought that the state of California now faces is a potentially threatening issue with multiple consequences. For residents and visitors alike, a steady supply of hydration fuels a wide range of activities, from recreation and tourism to agriculture and industry. With such a vital resource on the decline, Californians have had to critically adapt their priorities in order to conserve as much water as possible.

The official State of Emergency and subsequent executive orders declared by Governor Jerry Brown were also a harsh wake-up call for many citizens throughout the state. In addition to the environmental and economic impacts, the sudden and strict changes that many individuals now face have also spawned a great amount of mental stress. An explosion of research initiatives regarding the effects of the drought have also flooded the scientific community in recent years. A fair proportion of these studies has been a direct response to California’s current condition and is led by local researchers determined to learn from and address its related issues.

In an official guide for California’s drought drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a collection of other agencies and organizations, the authors comprehensively outline the major obstacles and goals for protecting the state’s finite resources. By reviewing past cases in Australia and India, the guide also details that the excess stress caused by drought can also lead to depression, anxiety and behavioral dysfunctions. These findings are especially observed in people who rely on water for economic survival or live in rural areas with limited opportunities for income and care.

Two 2014 studies examining the various influences of Australia’s latest drought support the environmental susceptibility of rural populations. A team of researchers from the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Australian National University found that farmers who had suffered from record-setting setbacks also reported the most mental health issues and lower levels of wellness. In addition, scholars from Australian National University and the University of Canberra discovered that during a seven-year period of drought, one pattern of dryness demonstrated an estimated 6.22 percent increase of distress for rural residents. This change was not observed in their urban-dwelling counterparts.

Overall, there are multiple ways that climate change and severe weather events can change a person’s mental state. In a 2009 study conducted by a group of accredited Australian universities, serious natural emergencies can inflict psychological harm through direct, traumatic experiences and other indirect pathways. For example, people suffer from extreme environmental exposure that can result in bodily ailments, such as heat exhaustion. In addition, a community’s well-being and physical condition can degrade as a result of climate changes. As these environments set the stage for daily social interactions to occur, the erosion will also impact the members of these communities. Altogether, both people and places with low socioeconomic status will have a heightened vulnerability to these consequences.

Once the California drought progresses into a more long-term issue, a set of additional complications will arise. According to a peer reviewed report observing the New South Wales droughts, people living in rural locations are cut off from specialized mental health resources, leading many to seek help from general practitioners instead. The research suggests that these physicians practice early intervention and cooperate closely with community agencies who are in touch with distant farmers and ranchers.

New and resilience-building strategies for California’s future

A 2008 analysis of Australia’s drought in New South Wales focused on the implementation of mental health first aid (MHFA) training to strengthen the ability of its agricultural communities and provide effective intervention for psychological problems. Although the measured improvements in participants were small in number, the benefit was still significant for its small survey size. The study also identified areas for further research, as it demonstrated a strong effect on depressive symptoms but lacked concentration on other prevalent disorders like schizophrenia.

While helping victims exposed to drought and other comparable circumstances is necessary to ensure a stable state of mind, it is also imperative for the Golden State’s future. Internists and mental health experts alike need to take the required steps that will keep their patients healthy. Sovereign Health Group of California always aims to leave its clients with a balanced body and mind. By helping those afflicted find stability, our cognitive strategies can help people absorb drought-related regulations and education. If you or someone you know struggles from severe stress or anxiety, contact Sovereign online or call 866-629-0442.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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