Alaska residents have expressed concern and a feeling of depression related to uncertainty about the impacts of potential changes in the environment due to climate change (Yoder, 2018). Due to the challenge of small sample sizes within Alaskan data, an analysis of the effect of environmental change on the quality of life often does not have the required statistical power to find significant effects. The 500 Cities Data Challenge presented an opportunity to work with a large dataset to explore associations between environmental changes and human health effects.
Changes in the local landscapes due to extreme weather events or erosion can increase stress disorders, anxiety, and depression. There may also be rates of “maladaptive,’ coping (e.g. increased substance/drug (including alcohol) use) (USGCRP, 2016). Residents of communities like Jersey City, New Orleans, and Houston that have experienced flooding and extreme storm events in recent years may have adverse mental health effects from the stress of experiencing these hazards as well as the knowledge that they are more at risk for experiencing them again in the future (Berry, Bowen, & Kjellstrom, 2010; Carey, 2007; Irfan, 2012). However, others living in these same areas may not experience anxiety or stressful coping as a result of the same exposures. This is because they have the adaptive capacity to respond to these events. They have a car to drive to safety, family and friends who can take them in during extreme weather events, and savings to help them rebuild after a disaster.
Our objective is to understand the impact of the risk of environmental change on quality of life. By understanding more about the social impacts of environmental disasters, the costs and benefits of mitigation projects can be placed in a more holistic context that includes impacts such as mental health. For example; flood abatement infrastructure may have a larger community impact beyond the physical safety of local communities. Stakeholders may wish to reassess the allocation of health education and treatment resources in communities that have a higher risk of environmental disaster.
Berry, H. L., Bowen, K., & Kjellstrom, T. (2010). Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. Int J Public Health, 55(2), 123-132. doi:10.1007/s00038-009-0112-0
Carey, B. (2007, 20071204). Hurricane Katrina - Mental Health Effects - Depression. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/health/research/04katr.html
Irfan, U. (Producer). (2012, November 12, 2012). Superstorm Sandy May Have Long-Term Public Health Impacts. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/superstorm-sandy-may-have-long-term-public-health-impacts/#
USGCRP. (2016). The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (A. Crimmins, J. Balbus, J. L. Gamble, C. B. Beard, J. E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R. J. Eisen, N. Fann, M. D. Hawkins, S. C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D. M. Mills, S. Saha, M. C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, & L. Ziska Eds.). Washington, DC: U.S. Global Change Research Program. Retrieved from https://health2016.globalchange.gov/
Yoder, S. (2018). Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska. Retrieved from http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi