Differential mental health impact six months after extensive river flooding in rural Australia: a cross-sectional analysis through an equity lens

Veronica Matthews*, Jo Longman, Helen L. Berry, Megan Passey, James Bennett-Levy, Geoffrey G. Morgan, Sabrina Pit, Margaret Rolfe, Ross S. Bailie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Northern New South Wales in Australia is a “hotspot” for natural disaster declarations with recent extensive flooding in early 2017. With limited knowledge about how climate change affects mental health and resilience, robust local assessments are required to better understand long-term impact, particularly in communities prone to extreme weather events. Methods: Six months post-flood, a cross-sectional survey of adults living in the region during the flood was conducted to quantify associations between flood impact and psychological morbidity (post-traumatic stress (PTSD), anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation) for different exposure scenarios, and respondent groups. We adopted a community-academic partnership approach and purposive recruitment to increase participation from marginalized groups. Results: Of 2,180 respondents, almost all (91%) were affected by some degree of flood-related exposure at an individual and community level (ranging from suburb damage to home or business inundated). Socio-economically marginalized respondents were more likely to have their homes inundated and to be displaced. Mental health risk was significantly elevated for respondents: whose home/business/farm was inundated [e.g., home inundation: PTSD adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 13.72 (99% CI 4.53–41.56)]; who reported multiple exposures [e.g., three exposures: PTSD AOR 6.43 (99% CI 2.11–19.60)]; and who were still displaced after 6 months [e.g., PTSD AOR 24.43 (99% CI 7.05–84.69)]. Conclusion: The 2017 flood had profound impact, particularly for respondents still displaced and for socio-economically marginalized groups. Our community-academic partnership approach builds community cohesion, informs targeted mental health disaster preparedness and response policies for different sectors of the community and longer-term interventions aimed at improving community adaptability to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number367
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • indigenous populations
  • inequality
  • low income populations
  • mental health
  • natural disasters


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