Floods Threaten the Mental Health of Children

personal belongings damaged by flooding in Louisiana
Credit: Laura Guzman/FEMA

Health experts know climate change threatens the mental health and well-being of millions of people, particularly children. There are few detailed studies, however, of how children react to and recover from climate-related stresses. This data gap makes it harder for health providers to support families after disasters like the recent floods in Louisiana.

Louisiana just had its wettest August on record, largely because of record-breaking rainfall over three days. An international team of scientists estimates that climate change made the storms roughly 10 percent more intense and at least 40 percent more likely.

In the early days of the flooding, emergency shelters served about 11,000 Louisiana residents. All but a few hundred of those people now have alternative housing arrangements. But too often, the alternative arrangements involve tents, travel trailers, or even wet, moldy homes that haven’t been gutted.

Some Louisiana parents report that the flood devastation and loss of routine is making their children anxious and contributing to behavior problems. This is consistent with a new report from Save the Children and Lancaster University that finds flood-affected children in the United Kingdom struggled with the loss of family items, constant disruption and uncertainty, and “dismay … about what they saw as the treatment of children and families by insurance companies and adjustors.”


Another new article in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports finds that weather disasters can also reduce school attendance, harm academic achievement, and increase dropout rates. Remarkably—given the scale of the flood in Louisiana and resulting damage to schools—the school year in Baton Rouge and nearby communities started just a few weeks late and many schools have had surprisingly high attendance. Louisiana’s children, however, are already starting with an educational disadvantage. In 2013, only 57 percent of kids arrived in kindergarten with basic language and counting skills, and in 2015, the Education Week Research Center ranked the “Chance for Success” in Louisiana as 48th in the nation.

parent and child acting on climate
Credit: Sheila Katz

The unfolding situation in Louisiana is a reminder of how important it is to prepare our health system for increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather. But we also need to keep people out of harm’s way in the first place, and continue to tackle the root cause of climate change: carbon pollution from dirty fossil fuels.

The health of our children, and our children’s children, is in our hands. Let’s get to work.

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