Floods are natural disasters of devastating consequences, and they’re happening more frequently and more severely due to climate change. These leave behind not only physical and economic destruction but also invisible scars on the mental well-being of the affected communities. While the immediate aftermath of a flood focuses on rescue and recovery efforts, the psychological toll on communities and those that survive these disasters can last for prolonged periods of time, and there isn’t yet a systematic approach to treating the hidden impacts of these disasters. This article sheds light into the less visible consequences of floods, namely their impact on mental health, and aims at highlighting the importance of recognizing, addressing, and supporting mental well-being as a consequence of floods.
Floods disrupt the equilibrium of daily life, leaving individuals suffering with trauma, loss, and uncertainty. The abruptness and intensity of flooding can trigger a range of emotional responses, from fear and anxiety to grief and helplessness. Witnessing the destruction of lives, animals, homes, livelihoods, and possessions of sentimental value can lead to feelings of despair, while the chaos and displacement that follow contribute to a sense of instability and vulnerability. An element listed as one that affects the mental health of people was the absence of warning.
Among the common mental health impacts of floods is the ignition or exacerbation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors, especially those who experienced life-threatening situations during a flood, may be left with recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and intense anxiety triggered by reminders of the disaster. Left untreated, PTSD can have a severe impact on overall well-being and quality of life. It’s also worth mentioning that mental health issues, not only are able to cause great levels of disability, but also have an enormous impact on the economy and on medical resources. In fact, globally lost productivity is estimated to cost 1 trillion dollars each year.
Forecasts indicate that the trend of extreme weather events will continue to happen and to grow in the decades to come, ant thus, taking into consideration the mental health toll of floods is crucial for building – and in some cases, re-building resilient communities. As we continue to develop strategies to predict and mitigate the physical impacts of floods, we must not overlook the invisible consequences on mental health. It’s key for infrastructure developers and local authorities to bear in mind that trauma, grief, and emotional upheaval experienced by flood survivors can be as devastating as the physical damage.
Initiatives that prioritize mental health support within disaster recovery efforts are essential, but what we believe is post important is to integrate mental well-being into disaster preparedness and recovery plans, and to establish preventative measures and adaptation measures that allow communities to feel safe and have predictability (which include proper flood warning systems in place) making them resilient.