Skip to main content

Drought and Distress in Southeastern Australia

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Albrecht, G., Sartore, G., Connor, L., Higginbotham, N., Freeman, S., Kelly, B., Stain, H., Tonna, A., Pollard, G., 2007. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australasian Psychiatry 15, 95–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alston, M., 2012. Rural male suicide in Australia. Social Science & Medicine 74, 515–522. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.04.036

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Andrews, G., Slade, T., 2001. Interpreting scores on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 25, 494–497. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-842x.2001.tb00310.x

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007) 4817.0.55.001—Information Paper: Use of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale in ABS Health Surveys, 2007-08

  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS). Cat. No. 1270.0.55.001

  6. Berman, J.D., Ebisu, K., Peng, R.D., Dominici, F., Bell, M.L., 2017. Drought and the risk of hospital admissions and mortality in older adults in western USA from 2000 to 2013: A retrospective study. The Lancet Planetary Health 1, e17–e25. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2542-5196(17)30002-5

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Berry, H.L., Bowen, K., Kjellstrom, T., 2010. Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. International journal of public health 55, 123–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-009-0112-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Cairney, J., Veldhuizen, S., Wade, T.J., Kurdyak, P., Streiner, D.L., 2007. Evaluation of 2 Measures of Psychological Distress as Screeners for Depression in the General Population. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 52, 111–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Clayton, S., Devine-Wright, P., Stern, P.C., Whitmarsh, L., Carrico, A., Steg, L., Swim, J., Bonnes, M., 2015. Psychological research and global climate change. Nature Climate Change 5, 640–646. https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2622

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Crnek-Georgeson, K., Wilson, L., Page, A., 2017. Factors influencing suicide in older rural males: a review of Australian studies. Rural and Remote Health 17, 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dai, A., 2012. Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nature Climate Change 3, 52–58. https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1633

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. DeSalvo, K.B., Fisher, W.P., Tran, K., Bloser, N., Merrill, W., Peabody, J., 2006. Assessing Measurement Properties of Two Single-item General Health Measures. Quality of Life Research 15, 191–201. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-005-0887-2

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Edwards, B., Gray, M., Hunter, B., 2014. The Impact of Drought on Mental Health in Rural and Regional Australia. Social Indicators Research 121, 177–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0638-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Ellis, N.R., Albrecht, G.A., 2017. Climate change threats to family farmers’ sense of place and mental wellbeing: A case study from the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Social Science and Medicine 175, 161–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.009

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Friel, S., Berry, H., Dinh, H., O’Brien, L., Walls, H.L., 2014. The impact of drought on the association between food security and mental health in a nationally representative Australian sample. BMC Public Health 14, 1102. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-14-1102

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. Furukawa, T., Kessler, R., Slade, T., Andrews, G., 2003. The performance of the K6 and K10 screening scales for psychological distress in the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being. Psychological Medicine 33, 357–362

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hanigan I (2012) The Hutchinson Drought Index Algorithm. https://github.com/ivanhanigan/HutchinsonDroughtIndex. Accessed 24 Mar 2016

  18. Hanigan, I.C., Butler, C.D., Kokic, P.N., Hutchinson, M.F., 2012. Suicide and drought in New South Wales, Australia, 1970-2007. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 13950–13955. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1112965109

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. Kelley, C.P., Mohtadi, S., Cane, M.A., Seager, R., Kushnir, Y., 2015. Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 3241–3246. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1421533112

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kessler, R., Andrews, G., Colpe, L., Hiripi, E., Mroczek, D., Normand, S., Walters, E., Zaslavsky, A., 2002. Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in non-specific psychological distress. Psychological Medicine 32, 959–976. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291702006074

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Kessler, R.C., Barker, P.R., Colpe, L.J., Epstein, J.F., Gfroerer, J., Hiripi, E., Howes, M., Normand, S., Manderscheid, R.W., Walters, E.E., Zaslavsky, A.M., 2003. Screening for Serious Mental Illness in the General Population. Archives of General Psychiatry 60, 184–189.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kessler, R.C., Green, J.G., Gruber, M.J., Sampson, N.A., Bromet, E., Cuitan, M., Furukawa, T.A., Gureje, O.Y.E., Hinkov, H., Hu, C.-y., Lara, C., Lee, S., Mneimneh, Z., Myer, L., Oakley-browne, M., Posada-villa, J., Sagar, R., Viana, M.C., Paulo, S., 2010. Screening for serious mental illness in the general population with the K6 screening scale: results from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) survey initiative. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 19, 4–22. https://doi.org/10.1002/mpr

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. McMichael A (2017) Climate change and the health of nations. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  24. McMichael, A.J., Butler, C.D., Dixon, J., 2015. Climate change, food systems and population health risks in their eco-social context. Public Health 129, 1361–1368. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2014.11.013

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Nicholls, N., Butler, C., Hanigan, I., 2006. Inter-annual rainfall variations and suicide in New South Wales, Australia, 1964-2001. International Journal of Biometeorology 50, 139–143. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-005-0002-y

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. O’Brien, L.V., Berry, H.L., Coleman, C., Hanigan, I.C., 2014. Drought as a mental health exposure. Environmental Research 131, 181–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2014.03.014

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Powers, J.R., Dobson, A.J., Berry, H.L., Graves, A.M., Hanigan, I.C., Loxton, D., 2015. Lack of association between drought and mental health in a cohort of 45-61 year old rural Australian women. Australian and New Zealand journal of public health 39, 518–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.12369

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Raftery, A.E., 1995. Bayesian Model Selection in Social Research. Sociological Methodology 25, 111–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Schirmer, J., Yabsley, B., Mylek, M., Peel, D., 2016. Wellbeing, resilience and liveability in regional Australia: the 2015 Regional Wellbeing Survey. University of Canberra, Canberra.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Slade, T., Burgess, P., Grove, R., 2011. Kessler Psychological Distress Scale: normative data from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 45, 308–316. https://doi.org/10.3109/00048674.2010.543653

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Smith, D.I., Hutchinson, M.F., McArthur, R.J., 1992. Climatic and Agricultural Drought: Payments and Policy. Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Stanke, C., Kerac, M., Prudhomme, C., Medlock, J., Murray, V., 2013. Health effects of drought: A systematic review of the evidence. PLoS Currents Disasters 1, 1–38. https://doi.org/10.1371/currents.dis.7a2cee9e980f91ad7697b570bcc4b004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Trenberth, K.E., Dai, A., Schrier, G. van der, Jones, P.D., Barichivich, J., Briffa, K.R., Sheffield, J., 2014. Global warming and changes in drought. Nature Clim. Change 4, 17–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Vins, H., Bell, J., Saha, S., Hess, J., 2015. The mental health outcomes of drought: A systematic review and causal process diagram. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12, 13251–13275. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph121013251

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  35. Watts, N., Adger, W.N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., Chaytor, S., Colbourn, T., Collins, M., Cooper, A., Cox, P.M., Depledge, J., Drummond, P., Ekins, P., Galaz, V., Grace, D., Graham, H., Grubb, M., Haines, A., Hamilton, I., Hunter, A., Jiang, X., Li, M., Kelman, I., Liang, L., Lott, M., Lowe, R., Luo, Y., Mace, G., Maslin, M., Nilsson, M., Oreszczyn, T., Pye, S., Quinn, T., Svensdotter, M., Venevsky, S., Warner, K., Xu, B., Yang, J., Yin, Y., Yu, C., Zhang, Q., Gong, P., Montgomery, H., Costello, A., 2015. Health and climate change: Policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet 386, 1861–1914. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(15)60854-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Watts, N., Adger, W.N., Ayeb-Karlsson, S., Bai, Y., Byass, P., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Colbourn, T., Cox, P., Davies, M., Depledge, M., Depoux, A., Dominguez-Salas, P., Drummond, P., Ekins, P., Flahault, A., Grace, D., Graham, H., Haines, A., Hamilton, I., Johnson, A., Kelman, I., Kovats, S., Liang, L., Lott, M., Lowe, R., Luo, Y., Mace, G., Maslin, M., Morrissey, K., Murray, K., Neville, T., Nilsson, M., Oreszczyn, T., Parthemore, C., Pencheon, D., Robinson, E., Schütte, S., Shumake-Guillemot, J., Vineis, P., Wilkinson, P., Wheeler, N., Xu, B., Yang, J., Yin, Y., Yu, C., Gong, P., Montgomery, H., Costello, A., 2017. The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change. The Lancet 389, 1151–1164. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(16)32124-9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Wood, S., 2006. Generalized Additive Models: An Introduction with R. Chapman; Hall/CRC, Boca Raton

    Book  Google Scholar 

  38. Zajacova, A., Dowd, J. B. 2011. Reliability of self-rated health in US Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 174(8), 977–983. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwr204

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ivan C. Hanigan.

Ethics declarations

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.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 31 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hanigan, I.C., Schirmer, J. & Niyonsenga, T. Drought and Distress in Southeastern Australia. EcoHealth 15, 642–655 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-018-1339-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Drought
  • Rainfall
  • Climate
  • Distress
  • Mental health