The connection between mental health and weather extremes is a public health concern, but less studied to date than physical health. This exploratory study examines the mental health impacts of two kinds of weather extremes increasingly linked to climate change—summer heat waves and extreme winter weather—in a low- to middle-income population in the Southeastern United States. The distribution of mental health impacts, and potential pathways to them, are examined with a focus on race. Data are from a random-sample survey of 426 participants and are analyzed with bivariate statistics and path analysis. Self-reported mental health impacts, in both seasons, were common in our study, with White participants tending to report worse impacts than participants who identified with other racial groups. Physical health had direct effects on mental health across several models, overall and by racial group. For summer heat waves, concern about climate change and social cohesion had direct and indirect effects, respectively, on mental health in White participants only. For extreme winter weather, preparedness had a direct negative effect on mental health in White, but not Black, participants. Results suggest that there may be racial differences in the influence of human and social capital factors on mental health related to weather extremes, warranting further study of this critical topic and with larger racial subgroup samples.
Project: Environment and Social Development