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Fairness under fire: Environmental justice, mental health, and natural disasters

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) M.Sc.
Date created
Natural disasters are increasing due to climate change, bringing with them substantial increases in disaster-associated mental illnesses, such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Previous evidence has shown that after a natural disaster, these mental heath outcomes are not distributed equally throughout the population, but tend to affect certain groups of people more than others. Yet, inequality does not necessarily constitute an inequity. Currently, there is no established way of determining the fairness of mental health outcomes post-disaster, which is a necessary component of determining whether policies or guidelines ought to change in order to remedy an injustice. In this project, I use an environmental justice framework to assess the justness of mental health outcomes after natural disasters, using the Fort McMurray fire of 2016, known as The Beast, as a case study. Environmental justice theories have not previously been used to determine justness of mental health outcomes after natural disasters, therefore I begin by determining whether this the correct type of theory to use for this endeavour by examining certain critical components of the theory against what would be required for its application in this particular context. I end this ethical analysis by suggesting particular elements for inclusion in an environmental justice theory, to accommodate its usage for mental health outcomes post-natural disaster. The Beast caused the largest mandatory evacuation and was the costliest disaster in Canadian history. It therefore serves as a highly relevant case study to examine the question of equity in mental health outcomes in a Canadian context. Using aggregated data from Alberta Health, academic articles, newspaper articles, and published reports, I attempt to determine what the mental health outcomes of the Beast were, and if they affected the members of the population equally. In my final chapter, I applied the findings from my ethical analysis to the case study. This iterative process highlighted gaps and strengths in the approach. I conclude this thesis by reflecting on the learnings from this application process and offer thoughts on how we can move forward.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Snyder, Jeremy
Thesis advisor: Silva, Diego
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