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Flooding has a big impact on people's mental health

5 November 2019

Flooding can have a profound effect on people’s mental health, and aspects of their health-related quality of life according to research by led by Public Health England (PHE) and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London.

Flooding outside a fish and chip shop with people seated inside and sandbags in front of the door

The study, published in BMJ Open, shows that mental health problems (anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder) are elevated in people who have been flooded compared with those unaffected by flooding. People whose homes were flooded had poorer health-related quality of life compared with those unaffected by flooding, though this was largely accounted for by the impact of flooding on their mental health. There was, however, little evidence that having experiences a repeat flooding event, as compared with a single flooding event, was associated with worse outcomes. 

Flooding is the most common natural hazard globally. It is predicted that both the frequency and severity of flooding events will increase in the future. Populations living in flood-susceptible areas may therefore be exposed to multiple flooding events. The English National Study of Flooding and Health began in 2015 to assess the impact of flooding and related disruption on people’s mental health and well-being. 

The researchers used English National Study of Flooding and Health data from Cumbria, a region that has been exposed to repeated flooding events. Questionnaires were sent to 2,500 addresses in Cumbria, approximately six months after the 2015/2016 floods in the region. All adults in each selected household were invited to participate. Participants were asked to provide information on exposure to that episode of flooding, and whether they had been previously flooded. Socio-demographic information was also collected and adjusted for in the analyses. Mental health outcomes were assessed using validated instruments though these are not clinically diagnostic.

Lead author, Dr Clare French, from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol, said: “The association between flooding and mental health at six months is striking. Our findings highlight the need for the provision of mental health services and support following flooding, irrespective of prior flooding experience."

Paper: Impact of repeat flooding on mental health and health-related quality of life: a cross-sectional analysis of the English National Study of Flooding and Health. Clare E. French et al. Published in BMJ Open. November 2019.

Further information

About the NIHR HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Evaluation of Interventions, based in Population Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and a partnership between University of Bristol and Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with University College London, Cambridge Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit and University of the West of England. We are a multidisciplinary team undertaking applied research on the development and evaluation of interventions to protect the public’s health. Our aim is to support PHE in delivering its objectives and functions. Our focus is on the PHE priority area of infection. Follow us on Twitter: @HPRU_EI 

About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
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The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.