Climate change affects Kauaʻi flood victims’ mental health

By: Ronnie Allen Campman & Keila Lee

7 November 2019

  • Impacts of climate change on mental health
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  • By Ronnie Allen Campman & Keila Lee
00:00 / 00:00

Akana recalls having a convoy schedule that took people in and out of the community at designated times. Limited access to fresh food and exposure to black mold in her home caused her chronic stress, leading to the deterioration of her physical health. 

 

“The biggest was the long-time trauma of being locked in here and being held to a convoy schedule when I was having health problems, and to know that the only way I was going to get out was in an ambulance,” said Akana. “It’s like being a prisoner in your own home...the stresses of everything and trying to make sure we had what we could to survive.”

After Hurricane Katrina, one in six survivors developed PTSD, as stated by the American Public Health Association. 

 

Dr. Joshua Morganstein of the American Psychiatric Association said, “Climate change-related impacts can also lead to job loss, force people to move, or lead to a loss of social support and community resources, all of which have mental health consequences.” 

Forty eight percent of Americans believe that climate change affects their mental health, according to an American Psychiatric Association survey.

 

Kauaʻi residents know firsthand the mental health effects of climate change because of the record rainfall and floods that destroyed businesses, homes, and roads in April 2018. Landslides and floods cut off Wainiha and Hāʻena communities. Kuhio Highway, which is the only road in and out of the area, was shut down. 

Most people are aware of what climate change is -- the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the environment, warming the atmosphere at a faster pace. Many know that the causes include less rainfall, increasing temperatures, and more natural disasters. But did you know climate change can take a toll on a person’s mental health? 

 

Twenty two percent of people who endure a natural disaster are at risk to develop depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and chronic stress. One of the leading causes of PTSD is exposure to traumatic events such as losing one’s home, a serious accident, or exclusion from one’s community. 

“People were being airlifted out. It became a war zone. Then, I don’t know, it was kind of like a weird survival thing,” said Juliet Akana, a Wainiha resident. 

 

Once the weather calmed, the National Guard started sending in supplies to the residents.

The American Psychiatric Association also states that being disconnected from a community can add to one’s depression. This can be seen through Akana’s experiences with isolation and lack of resources for over a year.

 

Although Akana is facing anxiety and PTSD more than a year later, she’s grateful for her support system in Wainiha, including her neighbors, who she says also suffer from PTSD.

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