Stress & Mental Health
Individuals who live or work in a community with shale gas development (SGD) may experience some of the environmental stressors related to the industry. This could include:
Noise, light, and vibration that accompanies drilling, often lasting days or weeks at a time
Air or water quality changes
Uncertainty regarding toxic exposures
Truck traffic causing increased emissions, noise, dust, and travel delays
Uncertainty over their health and that of their families.
Image courtesy of Mental Health America
How Stress Affects You
Stress is more than just a bad feeling; stress may cause physical changes in the human body.
Stress stimulates the brain to release various hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which activate the body’s “fight or flight” response. Other physiological changes, such as increased heart rate, faster breathing, and a surge of sugars in the blood, also accompany the fight or flight response.
Researchers believe this response evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to quickly act in life-threatening situations. The sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses can help someone fight off a threat or flee to safety. However, this response can also cause the body to overreact to everyday stressors that are not life-threatening. Chronic or long-term stress can weaken the immune system and lead to serious health problems. These health problems include heart disease, stroke, cancer, headaches, backaches, hypertension (high blood pressure), depression, and anxiety.
The feeling of stress can manifest in many different ways. Some individuals may experience changes to eating habits (such as eating more or less), or they may engage in smoking, drinking, or use other drugs more than usual. Individuals may feel overwhelmed, irritable, or tired. Stress can also impair executive functioning, making it harder to remember things, concentrate, and make decisions.
Depression & Anxiety
The environmental stressors outlined above can also be linked to depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that the noise level from shale gas construction and drilling exceeds noise levels that have been found to negatively impact health. These health impacts could include depression and anxiety. General noise levels from traffic have been found to be related to hospital admissions for depression and anxiety.
Research studies have found an association between depression and living near SGD activity. In one quantitative study, researchers found that during years with higher shale gas activity there were more new cases of depression among female adolescents. This study included both male and female adolescents, but new cases of depression were observed in only female participants. Other studies revealed that residents had anxiety around environmental impacts from SGD. Residents specifically described feeling anxious over the growing health impacts since shale gas development activities started in their community.
Residents who are experiencing stress, anxiety, or depressed feelings should talk to a trusted health care provider or a mental health professional. More resources for support or assistance can be accessed below.