Study highlights economic and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on people affected by climate disasters

When the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI) launched the Texas Flood Registry in April 2018, the goal was to develop a needs assessment focused on the health and housing impacts of the greater Houston area, which was still recovering less than a year after the devastating ravages of Hurricane Harvey. touches the ground.

In 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda dealt another blow to the state, causing major flooding and hitting an already battered community -; an example of how climate change is causing storms to intensify and climate-related events to occur more often.

Then came COVID-19.

Building on the existing registry, CEHI researchers, with collaborators from Rice University and the Environmental Defense Fund, deployed new surveys to assess the economic and health impacts of the pandemic nationwide, but with a particular focus on people affected by back-to-back crises. climatic disasters. Two results stood out.

Respondents with the greatest economic and mental health impacts from Hurricane Harvey were respectively four times more likely to experience loss of income during the pandemic and five times more likely to suffer from severe anxiety due to the pandemic than respondents who were not severely affected by the storm.

This study highlights the cumulative effect of economic stress and mental health impacts on an individual’s well-being when exposed to a succession of multiple crises. Seeing a four- or five-fold increase in these statistical patterns is very concerning, and the time between events highlights the cumulative and long-lasting impacts of these stressors.”

Marie Lynn Miranda, Director of CEHI and Professor, Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, University of Notre Dame

The Texas Flood Registry is the first of its kind to track the short- and long-term effects of hurricanes on health and housing using online survey data.

For the study, the team analyzed survey data collected between April 2018 and October 2020 from people affected by Hurricane Harvey and other major floods, including Tropical Storm Imelda. The registry initially asked about experiences during and after each storm, including loss of property or income, as well as feelings of distress related to Hurricane Harvey.

Surveys to determine the impact of COVID-19 were released in April 2020 with similar questions. The results were drawn from a sample of approximately 3,000 respondents who completed both surveys.

The economic and mental health stress felt during Hurricane Harvey had a greater impact on how individuals behaved during the pandemic than property damage and flooding issues. Non-Hispanic black respondents and Hispanic respondents were more than twice as likely to report having difficulty paying rent or bills during the pandemic than non-Hispanic white respondents, consistent with other studies showing these groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The CEHI researchers say the study could help inform recovery efforts, which tend to focus on the acute impacts of natural disasters like property damage, but neglect long-term effects like mental health.

The research could also help federal, state and local authorities identify communities most at risk of emotional and economic stress during and after severe weather events, which could benefit from additional assistance or support.

“Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, and this research shows that repeated exposure to disasters affects resilience,” Miranda said. “The emotional and economic impacts of these events, particularly for high-risk groups, are felt for years – long after the storm itself has passed.”


Journal reference:

Callender, R. et al. (2022) Economic and Mental Health Impacts of Multiple Adverse Events: Hurricane Harvey, Other Floods, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Environmental research.


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