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The impact of floods on our physical and mental health

8 March 2022

3 minutes to read

The impact of floods on our physical and mental health

Hannah Hayes is a Geography PhD student whose research is interested in flooding and flood risk management. Hannah’s PhD is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and conducted by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership.
Her supervisors are Prof Neil Adger and Dr Saffron O’Neill from University of Exeter and Prof Julie Barnett from University of Bath.

What is your background?

I’ve enjoyed geography since school but after graduating with a BSc Geography degree I quickly realised I needed to develop a focus within the field. Geography is brilliant because it exists at the balance between environment and society, and brings together planet and humanity. Flooding is similar. It is both a natural, environmental process but it is equally a result of society’s desire to live beside the sea and near rivers. After graduating I volunteered for WaterAid which led me to undertaking an MSc in Water (science and governance). During this, I completed my dissertation about the media reporting of the 2013/14 flooding on the Somerset Levels. I then joined the Environment Agency, which holds overall responsibility for flood risk in England. Here, I gained experience of flood risk management first-hand and translated my academic experience into a more practical one. I supported work on Thames Estuary 2100 – a programme which aims to get London prepared to face flood risk at the end of the century – as well as joining the core technical team creating the current national strategy, which was particularly exciting as this strategy now sets the direction for flood risk management in England.

What’s next for your research?

I’m in my first year of the PhD and therefore enjoying the freedom to think about what form my research should take and which questions it should seek to answer. Last year, as part of my PhD pathway, I completed a MRes in Sustainable Futures at the University of Exeter, Penryn campus. My dissertation explored the impact of floods on our health. The impacts on physical health, such as injury and mortality, are established but the impact of floods on mental health and wellbeing are less well understood.

Specifically, my research explored how flood, climate and health professionals based in the UK, Ireland and Ghana understood health and wellbeing in relation to flood risk management. I found that, in general, these professionals held a progressive, broad understanding but emphasised the need for integration between professional sectors to manage impacts on physical health and mental health and wellbeing in relation to flood risk. I was grateful to receive the highest mark in the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science for my dissertation, and I’m extremely lucky enough to be in the process of working with my supervisors and others from the department to publish the research.

What are the best and worst things about your field of work?

Being a woman in academia has unique challenges. This blog has been published on International Women’s Day, which is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, but also calls for action to accelerate women’s equality. So although it’s a day for celebration, it is also one for reflection on what needs to happen next to move female representation forward. Female graduates of geography consistently earn less than and are less likely to get promoted compared to their male counterpart. Across all UK universities there are substantially fewer female professors than male. We need to continue to find ways to promote women in academia.

The best thing about my field is that, through my professional experience and academic research to date, I’ve been fortunate enough to see how our approaches to flood risk management are constantly improving. Flood adaptation and mitigation can reduce risk and save lives whilst also working with the environment and society, for example, Natural Flood Management techniques which seek to replicate natural processes and building flood defence schemes which also support wider benefits for society, such as creating riverside paths that boost wellbeing. Due to changes in our climate, flooding will continue to worsen both in severity and occurrence, so there is still a lot to do. I’m excited to evolve and grow with this and I look forward to connecting with others at the university who want to do the same.

If you’d like to connect please email me or you can find me on LinkedIn:


I used these sources to support my thoughts on female representation:

  1. Institute for Fiscal Studies, The Impact Of Undergraduate Degrees On Lifetime Earnings report available here:
  2. Higher Education Statistics Agency, HESA, annual Higher Education Staff Statistics, UK 2020/21, available here:



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