Anyone who’s consumed bad food has experienced unfortunate and miserable outcomes. It’s a lesson learned that putting bad substances in your body results in bodily harm. Same goes with water. Studies show that the human body is 70% water—that’s a lot of water! Fortunately for us, we need it as it’s the fuel that makes everything run as it should, including our brains. Like bad food, bad water can cause issues that affect mental health.
I remember growing up traveling the world; mother would always tell me whether or not I could drink the water. I never understood this, wasn’t water, water? Of course I understood that when water didn’t run clear, it meant that it wasn’t drinkable, or rather, consumable. But there were places where the water ran clear and my mother told me not to drink it.
It wasn’t until years later in a chemistry class that I fully comprehended why being careful about water, no matter its transparency, mattered.
Contaminators & Effects
“Get out your periodic tables,” my teacher said. “We must look at contaminators to understand why drinking contaminated water is bad for mental health.”
One by one he listed different elements—“Inorganic arsenic, PCE (organic solvent tetrachloroethylene), lead, mercury…”—before diving into their negative effects.
“All of these things,” he continued, “affect our mental wellbeing. They can cause depression, a deep sadness that steals joy and interests away. A result can be anxiety. Anxiety is when someone is constantly worried. Another is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. Symptoms are triggers, usually sense-induced, that brought back to painful memories. Some people even experience bipolar disorder. This disorder causes intense mood swings that range from depression to a manic state.”
As I sat in my chair taking notes, it occurred to me how important drinking clean water is not only for your body but your mind.
Mental Health’s Effect On The Brain
Mental illnesses, as many of us know, causes a wide range of problems. Some effects include severe emotional, behavioral, and physical issues including brain damage.
According to Stone Ridge, when anxiety disorder is left untreated:
The brain doesn't return to a sense of normalcy when the stress, threat, or danger is gone. Instead, anxiety disorders can trigger your brain's fight or flight mode even when there's no perceived danger.
This can lead to becoming hypoactive to non-existent threats that over time, make it hard for the brain to reason rationally.
Depression can lead to brain shrinkage and inflammation. When the brain shrinks, memory loss, stress, rational thinking, emotions, and an irregular sleep pattern can occur. And when brain inflammation occurs, it can lead to severe symptoms and chronic issues such as confusion, seizures, speech or hearing problems, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The effects of bi-polar disorder, however, can reduce the amount of gray matter in the brain. Gray matter helps process information such as thoughts and feelings, controls impulses, and helps with motor skills.
When concerning Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to a Very Well Mind, can cause damage to the amygdala. This area assesses threats, the formation of emotional memories, and memories. It also affects the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for emotional regulation, decision making, and regulating attention. Other effects of this disorder result in the damage of the mid-anterior cingulate cortex that regulates emotions, registering physical pain, and autonomic functions.
Perception of Mental Health
After my new found knowledge on clean water’s benefits for mental health, I thought everyone should drink clean water. Who doesn’t want good mental health? But then I realized that many countries and cultures, however, perceive mental health differently. For instance, in the western world, it is more acceptable to talk about mental health. But in other places, it’s still considered to be stigmatized, shameful, and wrong. This could be the result of a lack of awareness and mental health professionals. In many areas, religious beliefs are what fills in the holes for science.
Clean Water Is No Where
Another misconception I believed when I was younger was that clear water meant clean. I also believed that developing countries faced water contamination and the water crisis. I was wrong. Technologically advance counties also struggle with these issues.
The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis is the perfect current-event example of the clean water crisis in the United States. During 2014 to 2019, the city of Flint faced a clean water crisis that its residents without clean water. As read in the Detroit Free Press, while the crisis has ended, the contaminated water and crisis itself contributes to the decline of the residents’ mental health.
But the issue doesn’t stop at Flint. In 2020, Vox covered how the COVD-19 pandemic highlighted water contamination and crisis in the U.S. The news website writes of the multiple rejected claims for clean water as bottled water was being bought out everywhere. This event, I learned, left thousands of people in a water crisis.
What We Can Do
If you’re like me who can get overwhelmed by thinking about the mental health and the water crisis, fortunately there are things we can do.
1.) First and foremost is to educate ourselves and others around us on contaminated water’s effect on mental health. I strongly believe that in order to find a solution, identifying the problem is crucial.
2.) Invest in a water purifying product to help ensure safe drinking water for our mental health. Our partners at Business Connect offer various water treatment and filter systems to ensure safer drinking water.
3.) Be an advocate for those without safe drinking water. Whether it be for a far off community in a developing nation or in your own community, adding to the noise to demand for basic human rights helps make the voiceless heard.