Once a comfort, the rain is now ruining Australia’s mood

Sydney broke its annual rainfall record in October

“Feels like Groundhog Day. I wake up and it’s raining, dark and cold, over and over and over.”

Rebecca Gray feels like it rains all year round in Sydney, Australia. It’s not far.

The city has seen around 170 days of rain so far in 2022 – there have been more wet days than dry days. And with almost a quarter of the year to go, Sydney broke its annual rainfall record last month.

“It’s not like we’ve just scratched the surface,” said Tom Saunders, a meteorologist at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The record is gone. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

More than 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) of rain has fallen in the city – three times the annual average for London. It was a similar story in the rest of Australia’s eastern states. Repeated, widespread flooding in all four of them has left thousands of homes uninhabitable and killed more than 30 people this year. Just last week, two people died as towns in central west New South Wales (NSW) went under water.

The Bureau of Meteorology says the weather is being driven by a number of phenomena, including the La Nina pattern which, in Australia, increases the chance of rain and cyclones.

He has warned of other dangerous months ahead. With catchments already wet, any rainfall could cause more widespread flooding in eastern and northern Australia.

Kills the “national mood”

Australia often likes to boast that it has warm, sunny beach weather all year round. But this year the country looked more like wet Singapore or rainy Cardiff.

How does Sydney compare to other rainy cities?  .  The chart shows how Sydney's average rainfall in 2022 compares with Singapore, Cardiff and Miami.

How does Sydney compare to other rainy cities? . The chart shows how Sydney’s average rainfall in 2022 compares with Singapore, Cardiff and Miami.

Many Australians – like Ms Gray – can feel it sapping their spirits.

“Some days I just don’t want to get out of bed,” she says, adding that because of the rain, seeing friends takes a lot more effort, exercise is limited to indoors, bathing in the line is basically impossible. and the house constantly feels damp.

“Looks like we had a new interior designer who is very fond of wet clothes and black mold.”

Even the dog has gotten over it, he says.

Rebecca Gray

Rebecca Gray says she’s sick of the weather

The weather affects “the national mood,” says researcher and clinical psychologist Kim Felmingham.

There is the biological impact: cloudy weather blocks sunlight, reduces serotonin – called the body’s happy hormone – and affects sleep.

Then there’s the behavioral effect: rain can prevent people from going outside and doing activities that give them a sense of well-being, achievement or social connection, says Professor Felmingham.

“All these contributing factors compound each other. If you have really relentless rain, we have clear evidence that it can lower mood, lower energy levels and bring a sense of frustration, loneliness or boredom at times,” he adds.

A much-loved sound turns into a ‘trigger’

But many people are more than annoyed and sad. They are also exhausted and injured.

When the worst floods on record hit the town of Lismore in February, Naomi Worrall was lucky to escape with her life. She was forced to wait out the deluge on her roof, alone and terrified for hours.

“If the rain stopped at all, it was enough that you could just hear little screams coming from inside the houses,” he says. “I thought, I hear people drowning.”

Four people died and when the city flooded again just a month later, a fifth drowned.

Naomi Worrall

Flooding destroyed Naomi Worrall’s home and new business

These days the city is so extreme that even light showers can send waves of stress through her, Ms Worrall says.

“The sound of rain on the roof is an Australian comfort. Everyone loves that sound. And if there’s one thing I’ve heard almost everyone talk about, it’s the sadness they feel that one of their favorite sounds has been turned into a trigger .”

“Where next – and who next?”

The past two years of dramatic flooding have been followed by record-breaking fires and drought. While Australia has always been a land of extremes, experts say climate change is making them worse and more frequent.

It’s creating a mental health crisis, health professionals warn.

“People don’t have a chance to recover in between,” says clinical psychiatrist Cybele Dey, a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. “And for people who have experienced multiple disasters, it’s not just the effects adding up … it’s getting worse.”

A survey – conducted before many disasters, in 2020 – found that around 55% of the population reported having direct experience of at least one. That number is likely to have increased since then.

The same study also found that one in four respondents showed clinical signs of PTSD. And about one in 10 people had developed what psychologists call “eco-anxiety” — heightened feelings of anxiety or worry about the planet’s future.

“Even if you are not directly affected by these events, you know someone [who is]or you witness really tangible effects,” says Professor Felmingham.

Dr Dey says these results are reflected in the stories she hears from her colleagues: more people are showing them significant anxiety about climate change.

And he believes this trend will only get stronger: “Children born now can expect to experience many times more fossil fuel-related disasters than their grandparents.”

Building mental resilience

Improving Australia’s resilience to disasters will be vital, Dr Dey argues.

People who prepare for disasters – by making evacuation plans, for example – tend to feel less distress and recover faster than those who don’t, according to Australian Red Cross research.

Mental health first aid training, seeking support from people with similar experiences and channeling stress into something productive can also help, says Dr Dey.

But stronger government action on climate change would also significantly improve people’s well-being, he says. “They can see that their distress matters and that action is being taken,” he says. “People need to be able to see reason for hope.”

Mrs Worrall, meanwhile, tries to make peace with the rain – by planting flowers amongst other things.

“I try to remind myself that rain is necessary for life and it’s good,” he says. “He can’t be an enemy forever.”

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