Bushfires and Mothers’ Mental Health in Pregnancy and Recent Post-Partum

Nicolas Cherbuin, Amita Bansal, Jane E. Dahlstrom, Hazel Carlisle, Margaret Broom, Ralph Nanan, Stewart Sutherland, Sotiris Vardoulakis, Christine B. Phillips, Michael J. Peek, Bruce K. Christensen, Deborah Davis, Christopher J. Nolan

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Abstract

Background: The compounding effects of climate change catastrophes such as bushfires and pandemics impose significant burden on individuals, societies, and their economies. The enduring effects of such syndemics on mental health remain poorly understood, particularly for at-risk populations (e.g., pregnant women and newborns). The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of direct and indirect exposure to the 2019/20 Australian Capital Territory and South-Eastern New South Wales bushfires followed by COVID-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of pregnant women and mothers with newborn babies. Methods: All women who were pregnant, had given birth, or were within three months of conceiving during the 2019/2020 bushfires, lived within the catchment area, and provided consent were invited to participate. Those who consented were asked to complete three online surveys. Mental health was assessed with the DASS-21 and the WHO-5. Bushfire, smoke, and COVID-19 exposures were assessed by self-report. Cross-sectional associations between exposures and mental health measures were tested with hierarchical regression models. Results: Of the women who participated, and had minimum data (n = 919), most (>75%) reported at least one acute bushfire exposure and 63% reported severe smoke exposure. Compared to Australian norms, participants had higher depression (+12%), anxiety (+35%), and stress (+43%) scores. Women with greater exposure to bushfires/smoke but not COVID-19 had poorer scores on all mental health measures. Conclusions: These findings provide novel evidence that the mental health of pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies is vulnerable to major climate catastrophes such as bushfires.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume21
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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