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A drought is a normal, reoccurring weather event that can vary in intensity and duration by region of the country and even by location within a state. Drought occurs when there is lower than average precipitation over a significant period of time, usually a season or more. Other causes of drought can be a delay in the rainy season or the timing of rain in relation to crop growth.

Drought is a slow-moving hazardous event, so the psychological effects of living through this type of disaster are more subtle and last longer than with other natural disasters. Low water availability creates shortages in water supplies that impact various activities and the environment. The impact is even greater as humans place demands on water supplies. Additionally, drought conditions increase the risk of other natural disasters, such as wildfires, and landslides.

Warning signs for emotional distress related to drought may include:

  • Feelings of overwhelming anxiety
  • Constant worrying
  • Trouble sleeping and other depression-like symptoms
  • Disputes between people over limited water supplies
  • Health concerns related to dust, low water flow, or poor water and air quality
  • Financial concerns related to crop failures, low supply and demand of agricultural-related products, or rising food prices

These are common responses to disasters such as droughts, although reactions can vary. Learn more about warning signs and risk factors for emotional distress related to drought and other disasters.

Where Can I Get Help?

The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) is the first national hotline dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 to all residents in the U.S. and its territories who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

 Call or text 1-800-985-5990

Who is at Risk for Emotional Distress?

Severe and ongoing droughts can have significant economic, environmental, agricultural, health, and social consequences. For example, record high temperatures and very low rainfall in California has resulted in extreme drought conditions since 2012. The drought, considered one of the most severe on record, is crippling California’s water supplies and agricultural industry. Also, the 2012 drought, often compared to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, impacted 60% of the continental United States and resulted in billions of dollars in agricultural loss.

People at risk for emotional stress due to effects of drought include:

  • Farmers, landscapers, garden supply owners, and others working in agriculture and their families. This group already carries a certain amount of stress from working in a business that is dependent on weather or climate conditions for their livelihood. The financial implications of drought can have significant adverse effects as they struggle for economic survival.
  • People living in rural or remote areas. These individuals may get water from private wells or poorly maintained municipal systems.
  • Older adults. Older adults are typically more prone to heat-related stress and are likely to have chronic medical conditions that change their normal body response to heat.

Remember, too, that the anniversary of a disaster or tragic event can renew feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness in disaster survivors. Certain sounds such as sirens can also trigger emotional distress. These and other environmental sensations can take people right back to the event, or cause them to fear that it’s about to happen again. These “trigger events” can happen at any time.

Most people who experience disasters are able to recover quickly, but others may need additional support to move forward on the path of recovery. Finding ways to manage stress is the best way to prevent negative emotions from becoming behavioral health issues. Learn about coping tips for dealing with drought and other types of disasters.

Additional Resources for Drought

The SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) also helps states, territories, tribes, and local entities deliver an effective mental health and substance abuse (behavioral health) response to drought and other natural disasters. Learn more about these issues and find more disaster-related resources at Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

Last Updated
Last Updated: 06/09/2023
Last Updated