Household water insecurity may influence common mental disorders directly and indirectly through multiple pathways: Evidence from Haiti

Soc Sci Med. 2019 Oct:238:112520. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112520. Epub 2019 Aug 26.


Living in poverty significantly elevates risk of common mental disorders, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly specified. The stress of coping with household food insecurity is posed as one fundamental driver. While much less tested, the stress of failing to meet household water needs may also matter. We test (a) a hypothesized direct influence of household water insecurity (as household access to water sources and quality/quantity of water available in the household) on anxiety and depression symptoms. We also test (b) if there are indirect (mediated) effects of these aspects of water insecurity on common mental disorder symptom levels via household food insecurity, and (c) via their association with sanitation insecurity (lack of toilet). Data were collected in Haiti in June-July 2016 from 4,055 geographically-sampled households representing three distinct low-resource communities, purposefully differentiated as urban, town, and rural. We confirm that household water insecurity exerts a direct, strong independent effect on anxiety and depression levels, even once food insecurity and household assets are taken into account. Additionally, household water insecurity appears to have an indirect effect on anxiety and depression levels through its influence on household food insecurity. In the rural community sample, there is also support for the proposition of additional influence of household water on anxiety through its association with lack of sanitation. This Haitian case supports theories posing a central, influential role for household water insecurity as a potential driver of common mental illness in low-resource households via direct and indirect (food insecurity, sanitation) pathways.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Food insecurity; Haiti; Mental health; Sanitation; Water; Water insecurity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Drinking Water / adverse effects
  • Drinking Water / standards
  • Haiti / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Residence Characteristics / classification*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Water Quality / standards*


  • Drinking Water