While the economic and environmental impacts of drought have been widely studied, there are few large-scale studies that have examined the impact of drought on mental health. This paper is one of the first to provide estimates of the impact of drought on mental health using a large-scale representative survey. The analysis is based upon a 2007 survey of 8,000 people living in rural and regional areas of Australia. At the time the survey was conducted a substantial part of the Australian continent was experiencing severe drought. The impacts of drought are estimated using regression models which allow for the effects of demographic and geographic variables to be held constant. A novel feature of this paper is that the impact of drought on the mental health is estimated separately for a range of people in rural areas—including non-farmers as well as farmers and farm workers. The paper finds that drought does have negative mental health impacts and that those who are most impacted upon are farmers and farm workers. There do not appear to be substantial flow-on effects of drought on the mental health of those employed outside of agriculture. There is evidence that the more severe the agricultural impact of drought the greater the impact on mental health. Farmers who reported that the drought had eliminated or reduced their farm’s productivity to the lowest point ever had significantly higher rates of mental health problems and lower mental health wellbeing scores than those who did not report they were in drought or reported that the drought had little or no effect. The findings are notable given that recent climate change scenarios suggest that the frequency and severity of drought will increase in many countries.
Keywords: Drought Rural and regional Agriculture Mental health