Thirsty for Quality: How Water Impacts Mental Health
While June is a “cloud cover” month in Africa, temperatures are still considered sweltering hot during the summer months. While some areas of the world are fortunate to have sanitary water, Niger does not. On Niger’s hottest days of the year, temperatures can range from 83 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Not having quality water and safe sanitation practices can make it a challenge to keep cool and hydrated in the Sahara. While clean water impacts overall health, there are many ways water impacts mental health as well.
The Lack of Water in Niger
Water is a basic human necessity to live. Because the body is made up of at least 60 percent water, the body needs water to help regulate body temperature and empty waste.
Half the population of Niger does not have access to clean water. This means that the people of Niger do not have access to proper drinking water, hygiene methods, spaces to rid their bodies of waste and are unable to replenish their bodies with water, causing just over 11,500 deaths of children under five years old each year.
How Water Impacts Mental Health
Among physical health concerns, clean water and proper hydration also affect mental health. Three ways water impacts mental health are:
- Mood and energy
- Ability to process
If a person is not inputting water into their system as quickly as it is being released, the body becomes dehydrated. However, prior to physical symptoms or awareness, the brain’s neurons have already detected dehydration within the body, lowering circulation, energy and the ability to cognitively function or process.
The brain and the heart are the two main reservoirs of water within the human body. When the body is dehydrated it affects circulation, which means lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain, altering physical and mental activity.
Because lack of water can cause such fatigue, this can have a quick impact on mood stability and cognitive function. For example, fatigue might accompany anxiety or irritability, causing a higher emotional reaction to circumstances. It also affects the way in which men and women process or perceive surroundings, tasks and situations. Dehydration, whether physical, mental or both, can cause a lack of concentration, reaction time, memory, and reasoning.
Improving Water to Improve Mental Health in Niger
In 2011, the World Bank and World Health Organization partnered with the African Minister’s Council on Water to make financing sanitation efforts in 2015 and beyond a priority in 32 countries, including Niger. These efforts include making sanitation, hygiene and quality water a political priority, founding community-led programs and providing quality water to disadvantaged areas.
The amount of water that one should replenish back into the body depends on the person, activity and climate. Given that Niger residents reside in 80 percent of the Sahara Desert, residents of Niger may need to replenish their bodies with more water than the average person. While safe water is essential for drinking, cooking and keeping clean, water impacts mental health in such a way that it is essential for emotional and mental well-being also.
– Ashley Cooper