Drought has a range of adverse physical, economic, emotional and social consequences. However, while these may be expected to result in higher rates of mental health problems, little research has explored the relationship between drought and mental health.

The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of drought on the mental health of rural Australian women. This included examining the effects on women who may be more vulnerable to adverse effects of drought, including women who are more isolated, poorer and less educated, and women with already have long-term illness or poor mental health

The study involved 6,664 women from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), born between 1946 and 1951, who lived outside of major cities. Women were sent five surveys between 1996 and 2008, which assessed mental health and a range of other health, behavioural and demographic variables. These data were linked to information about drought for their area of residence.

A third of women experienced drought in 1998 and half the women experienced drought in 2007. Drought was less common in 1996, 2001 and 2004 with less than one in ten women experiencing drought at these time points. While experience of drought varied over time, no relationship was found between drought and mental health. This was the case both for the overall findings, as well as among the groups considered to be vulnerable.

The findings suggest that drought does not lead to poorer mental health among mid-aged Australian women. Further research is needed to see if these findings apply to men, as well as to women of other ages.

Citation: Powers JR, Dobson, AJ, Berry, HL, Graves, AM, Hanigan IC, Loxton, D (2015). Lack of association between drought and mental health in a cohort of 45-61 year old rural Australian women. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. (in early view). doi:10.1111/1753-6405.12369

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