Angry, Scared, and Unsure: Mental Health Consequences of Contaminated Water in Flint, Michigan

Courtney A. Cuthbertson, Cathy Newkirk, Joan Ilardo, Scott Loveridge, Mark Skidmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Natural and manmade crises impact community-level behavioral health, including mental health and substance use. This article shares findings from a larger project about community behavioral health, relevant to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, using data from a larger study, involving monthly surveys of a panel of key informants from Genesee County. The data come from open-response questions and are analyzed as qualitative data using grounded theory techniques. Although respondents were not asked about the water issues in Flint, participants commented that the water situation was increasing stress, anxiety, and depression among the city’s population. Participants thought these mental health issues would affect the entire community but would be worse among low-income, African American populations in the city. Mental health consequences were related not only to the water contamination but to distrust of public officials who are expected and have the authority to resolve the issues. The mental health effects of this public health crisis are significant and have received inadequate attention in the literature. Public health response to situations similar to the water issues in Flint should include sustained attention mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-908
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral health
  • Flint
  • Infrastructure management
  • Mental health
  • Substance use
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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