An Emory University study was published on February 15. Nature Mental Health shows that wildfires lead to an increase in anxiety-related emergency department visits in the western United States, accelerating parallels to two growing public health crises—mental health and climate change.

The National Institutes of Health-funded study — conducted by researchers at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health — is the largest to date on the link between wildfire-related exposures and anxiety disorders. And is the most comprehensive research.

Analyzing satellite data and nearly 1.9 million emergency department visits in five states (California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Utah) during 2007-18, researchers showed wildfire smoke events — which That is when forest fires become the main source of environmental pollution. Within the ZIP code — mental health-related emergency department visits were associated with a 6.3 percent increase.

In addition to this shocking statistic, the study reveals:

  • Women, girls and older adults are more vulnerable to severe anxiety disorders associated with wildfires.
  • Men and boys also experienced an increase in anxiety disorders, but only when associated with a greater incidence of smoking.
  • Evidence of increased disaster risk and climate risk management strategies, including climate awareness and risk communication tailored to vulnerable populations.

What researchers say:

“The scary thing about climate change is that it has no clear boundaries; you get so scared about the unknown. Now we can use the knowledge we’ve gained to tell people not to panic.” No need. When you have a wildfire. Be careful not to smoke, close your windows, limit your outdoor activities, and don’t panic. Such preventative measures can potentially benefit the entire population. are,” says study co-author Yang Liu, Ph.D., chair and Gangarusa Distinguished Professor in the Gangarusa Department. Environmental Health at Rollins.

“Mental health is one of the most prevalent health conditions in America, and our study found multiple pathways between wildfires and associations with severe anxiety disorders. Many people already have some mild or moderate are dealing with mental health symptoms. Now imagine they wake up and see a smoke-covered sky, they’re likely to feel even more anxious,” study lead author Chengyang Zhou, Ph.D. D, who is a postdoctoral fellow in the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health.

Why this is important:

  • Rising temperatures and changes in drying patterns have greatly increased the likelihood of wildfires globally over the past 20 years, resulting in the expansion of burned areas and longer fire seasons. Is.
  • The western United States is a notoriously wildfire-prone region, due to fire weather conditions, increased drought, and an abundance of fuel resources.
  • Climate change has been linked to a number of psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.
  • Mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, have been an increasing threat to global public health over the past three decades. According to the most recent Global Burden of Disease Study, released in 2020, anxiety disorders were the 24th leading contributor — out of 369 diseases — to the global burden of disease.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the NIH (ES034175 and ES027892). NIH has established an NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative to reduce the risks to health, including mental health, from climate change.