Effect of Extreme Weather Events on Mental Health: A Narrative Synthesis and Meta-Analysis for the UK

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 19;17(22):8581. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17228581.


Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity as a consequence of climate change and pose a significant threat to population mental health. This is the case even in temperate regions such as the United Kingdom (UK) where flooding and heat waves are forecast to become more common. We conducted a systematic review to quantify the prevalence and describe the causes of common mental health problems in populations exposed to extreme weather events in the UK. We searched Web of Science, EMBASE and PsycINFO for studies that measured the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in populations exposed to extreme weather events in the UK, published up to 12 December 2019. We included 17 studies, four of which were included in meta-analyses to determine the point prevalence of common mental health problems in the period within 12 months following extreme weather events. The point prevalence was 19.8% for anxiety (k = 4; n = 1458; 95% CI 7.42 to 32.15), 21.35% for depression (k = 4; n = 1458; 95% CI 9.04 to 33.65) and 30.36% for PTSD (k = 4; n = 1359; 95% CI 11.68 to 49.05). Key factors that affected mental ill health in people exposed to flooding were water depth and absence of flood warnings. Displacement from home underscored the narratives associated with people's perceptions of the impact of flooding. The high prevalence of common mental health problems suggests that the prevention of mental ill health in populations at risk or exposed to extreme weather events should be a UK public health priority.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; flooding; heat wave; post-traumatic stress disorder; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Extreme Weather*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology