Written by: Elnaya Mahadevi Pillian.

We often hear about the urgency to appreciate water, but it is quite rare to really find reasons we can directly relate to; reasons that give a deep understanding on how important water is for our growth and development as human beings. The truth is, aside from biological needs, water is essential to our mental and psychological growth. I have personally just recently understood that the purpose of life is not only to survive but to live and maintain every aspect of being mindfully present, it is important to know how extensive and deep-rooted the impact of water and even more consequential to understand and implement the ways to appreciate it. Appreciation cannot be born without a fundamental understanding of the matter and urgency.

As a research assistant to a project revolving around environmental health and water sources, I was on a mission for a particular finding when I stumbled upon another research that caught my attention, a study on the relationship between depression as well as anxiety and water intake. According to a medical review by Dr. Weatherspoon, Ph.D., R.N., CRNA, in a study conducted in 2018 it was proven that of over 3,000 adults, those who drank more water had a lower risk of anxiety and depression than those who drank less water.¹ Proof of the relationship between depression and dehydration or lack of water intake comes from a rooted understanding of the mental illness itself. Depression is a well-known complex mental illness that comprises parts in the inter-functionalities of the human brain. It is too simplistic to say that dehydration is a direct cause of depression, but it significantly contributes to its development.

The human brain's tissues are about 75% water, it can be easily understood how a limitation of water could cause a direct or indirect malfunction of the organ. I can personally confirm this as a survivor of several mental illnesses that include chronic depression. Water intakes actually have that prime role in the functioning of our brains. Dehydration impedes energy production in the brain.² In other words, when our body receives a low intake of water, there is an inefficient amount of energy that supports the brain's function which often leads to a dysfunction or, simply put, to shut down. It also impedes serotonin production.³ Serotonin is known as the "happy chemical" or a prime neurotransmitter in our brain that is made of the amino acid tryptophan. For serotonin to be produced, the activity requires a great deal of water to complete. Failure to fulfill this biological need will lead to failure in transporting tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier that will convert it to serotonin. This will then heavily impact an individual's mood that will often result in feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and irritability among other negative emotions. Lastly, dehydration can increase stress in one's body that can often and usually rather quickly lead to depression. Drinking sufficient amounts of water saves the brain from the psychological and physiological impacts of stress by feeding and increasing the electrolyte levels that refrains the adrenal glands to produce excessive cortisol or the stress hormone. The way I see it is it is quite literally the basic need that we can all fulfill just to avoid another stumble along in life.

The seriousness of the relationship between mental illness, particularly anxiety disorder and depression, and lack of water intake directly impact on the quality of life. However, water intake is not the only way water can deeply and negatively impact the quality of life. Through lack of sanitation and hygiene, an individual's mental well-being can significantly drop as well. With up to 30% of reports, the prevalence of mental disorders is considered high in the general population.⁴ This can only mean that the lives of all individuals that walk the planet heavily depend on water. Thus, there is a greater need for appreciation for water and the ways to implement that appreciation in little forms of acts in our daily lives. This could include flood-water harvesting, recycling rainwater, and reusing wastewater. I came to know these methods from further extensive reads when I was heavily invested in integrated water management. As an environmental engineering student I am driven and find it a cruciality to develop methods as environmentally-friendly as possible while still ensuring access to clean water and sanitation to the people.

Flood-water harvesting is a method that can be used in areas prone to the natural disaster by storing flood-water in artificial or closed ponds. This stored water will then be pumped, particularly at the height of the rainy season, when the quality of water is at the highest. As floods are often followed by droughts, the stored water can be used for irrigation, as the facility can easily be equipped with a water-saving drop irrigation system. With consistent supplies of fertilizers and other farming materials, this form of water efficiency will greatly benefit the local population during difficult times as a result of natural disasters. During times of long periods of extreme weather conditions such as droughts, the facility can be connected to a pipeline system that will minimize water shortage gaps by watering crops to feed the community during dry seasons. Not only is it beneficial to areas that are heavily affected by floods, it also ensures that the people will have access to clean water and sanitation all year long. Connected to the quality of life, this will ensure the number of people that suffers from chronic dehydration will hopefully decrease before it develops into chronic depression. This form of integrated water source management had been implemented in a number of parts across the world, such as Northern Namibia.⁵

Another method that can be used as an integrated water source management is recycling rainwater. This particular method also synergizes the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, and lastly, life below water. Overall, the proportion of individuals with poor mental health are greatly impacted by water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).⁶ Therefore, this intervention will boost mental wellness by providing access for clean water and sanitation to the general population. Hence, it directly improves the quality of life and answers to the urgency for appreciation of water. The method is rather simple that consists of the building of a centralized water storage with a capacity that can handle a particular number of rain events. By practice, the rainwater would be collected in streams and will then be led through smaller lakes that lead into the central water storage or reservoir. In an attempt to maintain sanitation, a filter is put in place to remove toxic materials and particles before transporting the water to a treatment plant. Proceeding from the treatment plant, the water will then be equally and well distributed to people's homes. This water will be able to be used for fulfilling basic hygiene needs in toilets for flushing or laundry. Having access to sanitation answers the sixth sustainable development goal by showing commitment to responsible water management, the twelfth goal by ensuring the people have access to non-potable water which is not as hard as groundwater that reduces the need for soap and increases the life of washing machines, and lastly the fourteenth goal by creating a natural collection reservoir that can be considered as a recreational feature. All of these goals synergize in appreciation of water and the important role it plays in the quality of life by manifesting mental wellness.

Last but not least, a method of water appreciation and the urgency for mental wellness that water answers comes from reusing wastewater. With raging climate change that contributes to the world's climate dynamics, reusing wastewater through aquifer recharge and storage, stormwater capture, desalination, and smart-meter-based leak detection are much more efficient⁷ in fit to the hydrological and demography of the area suffering from extreme climate conditions compared to dams. Filtered water can be used as drinking water once treated properly. Thus, it contributes positively to the needs for mental wellness amongst the general population and is a form of appreciation of water by managing it responsibly.

In conclusion, it is necessary to appreciate water but how we get there and why it is extremely crucial is an even more urgent matter. Appreciation of water does not only answer biologicalor daily needs, but impacts the very root of mankind, our mental wellness which is one of the most prime importance of the quality of life. Water affects all of us, whether through personal intake or something more general such as sanitation. Therefore, knowing of its importance, implementation, and ways to appreciate it is very much needed if we would like to ensure a life that is worth living, not only surviving. I, for one, have felt the direct and indirect impact of water on my own well-being. It is not too late to take it seriously and appreciate water the way it should be with a simple view on increasing the quality of life.

 Works Cited

  1. Stanborough, R. "Dehydration and Anxiety: How to Keep Calm and Hydrate On". Published on Healthline. December 15, 2020.
  2. "Water, Depression, and Anxiety". Published by Solara Mental Health. https://solaramentalhealth.com/can-drinking-enough-water-help-my-depression-and-anxiety/
  3. "The Connection Between Dehydration and Depression". Published by Drink Optimum. August 11, 2020. https://www.drinkoptimum.com/the-connection-between-dehydration-and-depression/
  4. Kessler, R., Demler, O., and Frank, R. et al. "Prevalence and treatment of mental disorders, 1990 to 2003. N Engl J Med. 2005.
  5. "Integrated Water Resources Management in Northern Namibia". Published by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. December, 2015.
  6. Slekiene, J. and Mosler, H. "The link between mental health and safe drinking water behaviors in a vulnerable population in rural Malawi". July 8, 2019.
  7. Leslie, J. "Where Water is Scarce, Communities Turn to Reusing Wastewater". Published at the Yale School of the Environment. May 1, 2018.

About the author:

A versatile and highly inquisitive environmental engineering student at Bandung Institute of Technology, Elnaya is known to have multifarious interests in fields that require advocacy such as the environment. Mastery in competency and consistency with a touch of care for all of those around her, be it humans or living environment is what she strives for.