, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 642–655 | Cite as

Drought and Distress in Southeastern Australia

  • Ivan C. HaniganEmail author
  • Jacki Schirmer
  • Theophile Niyonsenga
Original Contribution


Droughts may increase the risk of mental health problems, but evidence suggests a complex story with some groups being vulnerable while others are not. Previous studies from Australia have found associations with suicide, depression and distress that vary by age, gender and remoteness. Understanding the effects of drought on mental health is important because drought is predicted to be more intense in some areas in the future. We investigated the associations between drought and distress in a survey of rural Australians by age, gender and farming status. We collected distress data using a survey of 5312 people from across the state of Victoria, Australia, in 2015. Respondents completed the Kessler 10 (K10) Psychological Distress Index, and demographic and general health data were collected. We linked a climatic drought index to the locality of residence of respondents. Associations between distress and drought were analyzed using multivariable regression models with interactions by age, gender and farming occupation. Parts of Victoria were in drought in 2015. Drought duration was associated with higher distress in younger rural women (aged 40–54: odds ratio 1.18 per inter-quartile range increase in drought duration) but not older rural women or men. This pattern did not vary between farmers and non-farmers. Drought was associated with increased distress, but this differed between subgroups. Our results suggest that supporting younger women may be particularly important, and understanding ways older Australian rural women cope may enable us to build adaptive capacity and resilience.


Drought Rainfall Climate Distress Mental health 



Our survey was supported by funding from: (1) the University of Canberra, (2) the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Land, Transport and Resources, (3) the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, (4) Murray Local Land Services, (5) the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, (6) the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, (7) Clarence City Council, (8) Bega Valley Shire Council, and (9) the Australian National University. The University of Canberra provided funding for data curation, analysis and writing of the article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

We declare no competing interests.

Ethics Committee Approval

The survey was approved by the University of Canberra Human Research Ethics Committee, Protocol Number 12-186, and informed consent was obtained from all survey participants.

Supplementary material

10393_2018_1339_MOESM1_ESM.docx (45 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 31 kb)


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Alliance 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ivan C. Hanigan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jacki Schirmer
    • 1
    • 3
  • Theophile Niyonsenga
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Research and Action in Public HealthUniversity of CanberraBruce, CanberraAustralia
  2. 2.University Centre for Rural Health, School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Institute for Applied EcologyUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia

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