Mental Health and Contaminated Drinking Water

While great strides have been made in the area of clean drinking water in recent years, the world still has a long way to go. According to the WHO, more than 2+ billion people worldwide lack access to clean, uncontaminated drinking water. Even when safe drinking water is available, there are situations where collecting and storing the clean water requires significant mental and physical effort, time, and motivation; those people least equipped to handle these difficulties are the ones most likely to face them.

Mental Health and Water

As just one example of how contaminated water effects countries populations is that of Bangladesh.   The water in this country is naturally and widely contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic. Drinking water laced with arsenic can lead to a disease called arsenicosis, which has a number of negative physical and mental health effects.

The mental health effects of this contaminated water are social, psychological, and physiological. Socially, arsenicosis sufferers may face exclusion and discrimination, leading to a loss of social support from their community. This is due to the mistaken belief that the disease is contagious. Psychologically, living with arsenicosis or in a household with a sufferer of the disease strongly affects mental health, due to concerns about future health, their family members, and their ability to earn a living. Physiologically, the disease makes the victim feel ill, which results in worsening mental health, and also affects specific brain functions that may increase the probability of developing depression.

Another well-known example of a lack of access to clean drinking water involves the individuals of Flint, Michigan. The community faced significant mental health consequences during the water crisis in the city. The contaminated water itself was not directly responsible for the decline in mental health in the city; the indirect consequences of living through such a crisis were more profound than the direct ones.

A major reason for the decline in mental health among the residents of Flint had to do with the official handling of the situation. Residents of the town were left with a distrust of government officials and a feeling that their government had abandoned them. The stress of worrying about their children’s future health also negatively affected the resident’s mental health. These stressors disproportionately affected the minority and low-income communities in the area, which is often the case when dealing with clean water.

A Deadly Cycle – (Lack of) Access to Clean Water

There is also a reverse correlation between mental health and access to clean water. Namely, accessing, transporting, and storing clean water in parts of the world without easy access can seem to require a significant effort on the part of every individual. Studies have shown that individuals who already suffer from poor mental health may not have the energy or the internal motivation to take appropriate steps with regard to accessing clean water. This leads to a feedback cycle in which the person becomes ill due to poor water quality, which causes them to have less energy and motivation to access clean water, which results in further degradation of their physical and mental health.

How to Fight Back

These problems are large scale societal issues, but there are definitely ways to fight back.  Many people are coming to realize that access to clean water supersedes all other charitable initiatives, because its so fundamental to life.  One spearheading initiative is Charity Water, which works to bring clean drinking water to destitute populations around the world, especially in Africa.

If you are in a situation where you are unsure of the quality of your drinking water, there are ways to bring you some peace of mind as well.  There are many options for portable water filters and purifiers, such as gravity water filtration systems, which are popular among hikers and backpackers and are very portable and easy to use.  Of course there are many other options if you are looking to further filter/purify your municipal water source, such as whole house filtration systems, all the way down to basic faucet filters that help remove some additional additives and solids.


Access to clean drinking water is a huge physical and mental health issue in every part of the world, even in the safe and advanced country of the United States. The consequences of not having access are many, and stretch further than most people realize.