The psychological impact of chronic environmental adversity: Responding to prolonged drought

Helen J. Stain, Brian Kelly, Vaughan J. Carr, Terry J. Lewin, Michael Fitzgerald, Lyn Fragar

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74 Citations (Scopus)


The health effects of chronic environmental adversity have received insufficient attention, particularly those associated with the psychological impact of drought. Resilience or adaptive response to drought has received even less attention than vulnerability factors. This research examined factors associated with drought impact in rural and remote Australian communities. In 2008 postal surveys were completed by 302 adults (mean age 53 years; 57% female, 77% married) living in rural areas of prolonged drought exposure. Outcome measures were: (i) psychological distress (Kessler 10) and (ii) an index of concern or worry about drought. A range of predictor variables were assessed: adaptability (hopefulness, neuroticism), other adverse events, personal support and community connectedness, and sense of place, as a measure of connection to the local environment. Predictors of drought related worry differed from those associated with psychological distress levels. The former included socio-economic factors (living on a farm [Odds Ratio, OR 3.09], current employment [OR 3.64]), personal psychological characteristics (neuroticism [OR 1.29]), and greater connection with the environment (sense of place [OR 1.05]). On the other hand, psychological distress was associated chiefly with personal factors, such as higher neuroticism [OR 1.92], lower levels of hopefulness [OR 0.28], and lower perceived social support and community connectedness [OR 0.39]. Practical financial, employment and family factors were identified as important elements of drought impact, as to a lesser extent was sense of place, reflecting a confrontation with the consequences of chronic environmental degradation, while personal hopefulness may help mitigate the psychological impact of such adversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1593-1599
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Connectedness
  • Drought
  • Environmental adversity
  • Hopefulness
  • Mental health
  • Rural
  • Sense of place


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