We're back with another Open Access Ambassador Blog!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

Kator Jethro Ifyalem is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Connect with Kator on LinkedIn!

Water plays a crucial role in human survival and wellbeing. Its significance extends beyond physical health and hydration, with increasing evidence supporting the positive impact of access to safe and clean water on mental health.

The mind-body connection is a fundamental principle in understanding mental health. This connection highlights the interplay between our physical state and our mental well-being. For example, dehydration can negatively affect cognitive function and mood, underscoring the physiological impact of water on mental health. Moreover, the psychological effects of "blue spaces" or water bodies are gaining recognition. Spending time near or in water bodies can have a calming effect, promoting a sense of balance and helping individuals to de-stress.

According to a review published in IWA Publishing’s Journal of Water and Health on the psychosocial impacts of the lack of access to water and sanitation in low- and middle-income countries, there is a clear relationship between clean water access and stress reduction. The process of obtaining clean water, especially in regions with water scarcity, can be stressful and can contribute to psychological distress. Conversely, access to clean water can alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation.

Also, research conducted on the link between mental health and safe drinking water behaviours in a vulnerable population in rural Malawi reported that communities that have benefited from improved water infrastructure have better mental well-being. This improvement is attributed to the reduced stress and anxiety associated with water collection and storage.

Water plays a significant role in emotional regulation and mood stabilization. The calming effect of water sounds and sights on the human psyche is well-documented. Therapeutic practices involving water-based activities, such as hydrotherapy, have been shown to improve mood and promote relaxation.

Communal aspects of water usage, such as shared water experiences, can foster a sense of belonging and enhance social connections. Case studies illustrate how shared water experiences can create a sense of community, contributing to improved mental well-being. One case study that illustrates how shared water experiences can create a sense of community and contribute to improved mental well-being is the 'Blue Gym' program in Europe. This program encourages people to participate in exercises in coastal areas, such as swimming, sailing, surfing, walking, and rambling, to improve their psychological health.

People living within four neighbourhoods in two coastal towns mentioned their preference for three types of social dynamics, each of which was evident in waterscapes: (a) seeking friendly conversation and a joyful atmosphere, (b) engaging in spaces that offer a variety of opportunities for family leisure and wellbeing, and (c) bonding relationship through shared hobbies and experiences.

Disparities in water access significantly impact the mental health of marginalized communities. Psychological stressors associated with limited access to safe water can lead to feelings of vulnerability, distress, and anxiety. Various initiatives and interventions aim to address water inequality and mental health disparities. These efforts not only improve access to safe water but also seek to alleviate the psychological stress associated with water scarcity.

Governments play an essential role in ensuring equitable water distribution for health benefits. Policy frameworks promoting clean water accessibility can significantly impact mental health. Successful policy implementations have demonstrated their influence on communities' mental well-being. This underscores the potential of proactive government policies in addressing water scarcity and improving mental health.

Implementing water-related mental health interventions presents potential challenges. There is a need for interdisciplinary collaboration between the mental health and water management sectors. Future research directions should aim to deepen the understanding of the water-mental health connection, exploring novel interventions and strategies to improve both water access and mental health.

In conclusion, access to safe and clean water significantly impacts mental health. From reducing stress and promoting emotional regulation to fostering social connections, water plays a critical role in psychological well-being. Addressing water scarcity and contamination is a global imperative, with governments, policymakers, and researchers playing pivotal roles in ensuring equitable water access. The challenges are enormous, but the potential benefits to mental health make this a cause worth pursuing.

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