New Study Shows Psychological Impacts of Extractive Industry

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from the Earth First! Newswire

The journal Ecopsychology released a new study last month about the psychological impacts of mountaintop removal on Appalachians called Increased Risk of Depression for People Living in Coal Mining Areas of Central Appalachia.

Published last month, the study written by West Virginia University scholars Michael Hendryx and Kestrel A. Innes-Wimsatt confirms the position of radical mental health collectives like the Icarus Project, which asks the question “How do we live with the monocropped corporate realities?”

From the abstract:

This study examines the relationship between depression symptoms and living in areas where mountaintop removal coal mining is practiced. Data were analyzed from a survey of 8,591 adults residing in Central Appalachian areas both with and without coal mining. The survey included a validated measure of depression severity. Results showed that diagnosable levels of major depression were present in almost 17% of respondents in mountaintop removal mining areas, compared to 10% of residents in non-mining areas. This disparity was partly attributable to socioeconomic disadvantage, but after statistical control for income, education, and other risks, depression risk for residents in the mountaintop removal area remained significantly elevated(odds ratio = 1.40, 95% confidence interval 1.15–1.71). This study contributes to the empirical evidence in support of the concept of solastalgia and indicates that persons who experience environmental degradation from mountaintop removal coal mining are at elevated risk for depression.

The new study adds to a rising body of work on the subject, including the recent study, The Effects of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Mental Health, Well-Being, and Community Health in Central Appalachia, which states:

Mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) is a form of surface mining frequently utilized in Central Appalachia. MTR is exactly what the name suggests; mountaintops are removed to expose coal seams for cheap extraction. The harmful environmental implications of this form of mining are well documented. Research also shows that MTR has detrimental effects on human health and on the functioning of local communities. Although virtually no research has been undertaken on the psychological effects of MTR, reports of people living close to MTR sites along with research on similar environmental problems suggest a high probability of an increased risk of mental health problems for those living near MTR sites. Solastalgia due to drastic environmental changes, eco-anxiety, and stress resulting from the dangerous and noxious aspects of MTR are likely among the most significant contributors to this increased risk of mental health problems. High rates of unemployment and poverty and lower rates of educational attainment persist in Central Appalachia despite significant gains in other areas of Appalachia. These pre-existing socioeconomic problems compound the stressors created by MTR.

Research has shown that there is mounting evidence to suggest that solastagia has become an embedded problem for people in areas affected by heavy resource extraction, such as the tar sands or mountaintop removal. “Solastalgia,” the former paper describes, “is a term coined to describe this placebased distress engendered by unwelcome environmental change. Solastalgia is a psychoterratic mental health issue; that is, it is an earth-related mental health problem stemming from negatively perceived and felt environmental change. Solastalgia is especially distressing for those who directly witness the destruction of their home environment and who feel intimately connected to the place in which they are rooted.”

The new research indicates that much needs to be done to understand the suffering of populations affected by fracking, infrastructure, and deforestation as well. Of course, the implications of solastagia are even more important concerning Native peoples, as it is generally a product of the colonization of the earth.

Dr. Hendryx explains:

The people of Appalachia have a strong sense of place, and MTR is antithetical to this sense. MTR deforests and destroys mountains within sight and sound of communities where families have lived for generations. Cemeteries have been surrounded or damaged, and entire communities have even been destroyed. In addition, jobs are in decline as machinery replaces labor, as coal reserves dwindle, and as other energy sources such as natural gas outperform coal in the marketplace. Social capital in the region has been depleted as a consequence of depopulation and the struggles between union workers and the coal industry. The prospects for alternative economic development remain largely unexplored and undeveloped as political and corporate interests disregard citizen concerns and cling to old ways. As a result, citizens are left disenfranchised, with little hope for economic advancement, while their surrounding environment, to which they have a profound attachment, is permanently defaced.

Earth First! demands the urgent rewilding of all landscapes as a remedy not only for the ills of climate change, but for the psycho-social maladies caused by the dominant paradigm.

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