Open Access Research article

Psychosocial impact of the summer 2007 floods in England

Shantini Paranjothy1, John Gallacher1, Richard Amlôt2, G James Rubin3, Lisa Page3, Tony Baxter4, Jeremy Wight5, David Kirrage6, Rosemary McNaught7 and Palmer SR1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Clinical Epidemiology Interdisciplinary Research Group, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, (5th Floor Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park) Cardiff (CF14 4YS) UK

2 Emergency Response Department, Health Protection Agency, (Building H11, HPA, Porton Down), Salisbury (SP4 0JG) UK

3 King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, (3rd Floor, Weston Education Centre, 10 Cutcombe Road), London (SE5 9RJ) UK

4 NHS Doncaster and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, (White Rose House, Ten Pound Walk), Doncaster (DN4 5DJ) UK

5 Sheffield Primary Care Trust and City Council, NHS Sheffield, (722 Prince Of Wales Road), Sheffield (S9 4EU) UK

6 Health Protection Agency, (Elgar House, Green Street, Kidderminster), Worcestershire, (DY10 1JF) UK

7 South Yorkshire Health Protection Unit, Health Protection Agency, (Meadowcourt, Hayland Street), Sheffield (S9 1BY) UK

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:145  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-145

Published: 3 March 2011

Abstract

Background

The summer of 2007 was the wettest in the UK since records began in 1914 and resulted in severe flooding in several regions. We carried out a health impact assessment using population-based surveys to assess the prevalence of and risk factors for the psychosocial consequences of this flooding in the United Kingdom.

Methods

Surveys were conducted in two regions using postal, online, telephone questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. Exposure variables included the presence of flood water in the home, evacuation and disruption to essential services (incident management variables), perceived impact of the floods on finances, house values and perceived health concerns. Validated tools were used to assess psychosocial outcome (mental health symptoms): psychological distress (GHQ-12), anxiety (GAD-7), depression (PHQ-9) and probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD checklist-shortform). Multivariable logistic regression was used to describe the association between water level in the home, psychological exposure variables and incident management variables, and each mental health symptom, adjusted for age, sex, presence of an existing medical condition, employment status, area and data collection method.

Results

The prevalence of all mental health symptoms was two to five-fold higher among individuals affected by flood water in the home. People who perceived negative impact on finances were more likely to report psychological distress (OR 2.5, 1.8-3.4), probable anxiety (OR 1.8, 1.3-2.7) probable depression (OR 2.0, 1.3-2.9) and probable PTSD (OR 3.2, 2.0-5.2). Disruption to essential services increased adverse psychological outcomes by two to three-fold. Evacuation was associated with some increase in psychological distress but not significantly for the other three measures.

Conclusion

The psychosocial and mental health impact of flooding is a growing public health concern and improved strategies for minimising disruption to essential services and financial worries need to be built in to emergency preparedness and response systems. Public Health Agencies should address the underlying predictors of adverse psychosocial and mental health when providing information and advice to people who are or are likely to be affected by flooding.