Journal of Environmental Psychology
School of Arts and Humanities
National Health and Medical Research Council / Australian National University / HEAL (Healthy Environments and Lives) National Research Network
NHMRC Number : 1173146, 2008937
In 2019–2020, Australia experienced an unprecedented bushfire season that caused widespread environmental destruction across the continent, and especially to its south-east corner. Over two studies, we examine mental health outcomes of individuals impacted by bushfire, drawing on the concept of solastalgia – the sense of distress arising from unwanted environmental change – as a potential explanation for the mental health consequences of bushfire. In Study 1, we surveyed 2084 residents from the Australian Capital Territory and surrounding regions directly after the bushfire season. Participants were asked about exposure to the 2019–2020 bushfires, and to a previous regional fire of significance, experience of solastalgia, and five mental health indicators. In Study 2, we broaden our focus to all of Australia, and administer our measures with a nationally representative sample six months after the conclusion of the bushfire season (N = 1477). In both studies, we find the severity of reported bushfire impact is significantly associated with mental health, such that greater impact predicts poorer outcomes. Moreover, we find the experience of solastalgia mediates the relationship between bushfire impact and mental health and wellbeing. Experiencing solastalgia is a partial, but important, mechanism for understanding the impact of bushfire exposure on mental health and wellbeing. Importantly, people not directly impacted by a bushfire event also experience solastalgia and subsequent poorer mental health outcomes following bushfires. We suggest that future measurements of the impact of abrupt environmental change events, including bushfires, consider the role of solastalgia and localised environmental contexts in shaping the mental health impacts to the population.
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