gms | German Medical Science

24. Jahrestagung des Netzwerks Evidenzbasierte Medizin e. V.

Netzwerk Evidenzbasierte Medizin e. V. (EbM-Netzwerk)

22. - 24.03.2023, Potsdam

Environmental degradation, resettlement and psychological distress in a western German coal-mining area

Meeting Abstract

  • Theresa Krüger - Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, Institut für Arbeits-, Sozial- und Umweltmedizin, Aachen, Deutschland
  • Thomas Kraus - Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, Institut für Arbeits-, Sozial- und Umweltmedizin, Aachen, Deutschland
  • Andrea Kaifie-Pechmann - Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, Institut für Arbeits-, Sozial- und Umweltmedizin, Aachen, Deutschland

Gesundheit und Klima – EbM für die Zukunft. 24. Jahrestagung des Netzwerks Evidenzbasierte Medizin. Potsdam, 22.-24.03.2023. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2023. Doc23ebmPSI-2-06

doi: 10.3205/23ebm031, urn:nbn:de:0183-23ebm0311

Published: March 21, 2023

© 2023 Krüger et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. See license information at



Background/research question: Unwelcome changes to familiar environments can provoke emotional and psychological distress, known as “solastalgia” [1]. In Germany, one of the world's largest producers of lignite (brown coal), environments are being degradaded and villages relocated until today, for mine developments. In this study, we investigated the risk of open-pit mining for solastalgia and psychological disorders (e.g., depression, generalized anxiety and somatization) in local communities.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was carried out in June and July 2021 in the Rhenish lignite mining area in Western Germany. Current and recently resettled residents of open-pit mines were queried about perceived environmental stressors as well as personal, socioeconomic and health impacts of open-pit mining and resettlement, including attitudes towards mining, feelings of change, place attachment and activities carried out in response. The questionnaire contained modules on depression, generalized anxiety and somatization of the Patient Health Questionnaire and items from the Environmental Distress Scale [2], including solastalgia.

Results: 620 people responded, including 181 resettlers, 114 residents from resettlement threatened villages and 325 residents from villages not threatened by relocation near an open-pit mine. All groups self-reported high levels of psychological distress, around twice to 7.5 times above population average. Respondents from resettlement threatened villages showed worst mental health status, with i.a. moderate to severe somatization levels of 52.7%, compared to only 28% in resettlers (p < .0001). Highest symptom levels of generalized anxiety (45.4%) and depression (34.3%) were also found in participants threatened by relocation. Dust was the most frequent environmental hazard (up to 73%), followed by noise and increased traffic. The majority of residents from villages threatened (56.8%) and not threatened (53.4%) by relocation supported citizens' initiatives against the expansion of open-pit mining, while only one in five resettlers (21.1%) claimed DOIng so.

Conclusion: The degradation and loss of the home environment caused by open-pit mining was associated with an increased prevalence of depressive, anxious and somatoform symptoms in local communities. This reveals a need for further in-depth research, communal and individual psychosocial support services and improved policy frameworks, in favor of residents’ and resettlers’ mental health.

Competing interests: T. Krüger is part of the German Alliance on Climate Change and Health (Deutsche Allianz Klimawandel und Gesundheit e.V.) and the Health for Future movement.


Albrecht G, Sartore GM, Connor L, Higginbotham N, Freeman S, Kelly B, Stain H, Tonna A, Pollard G. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australas Psychiatry. 2007;15 Suppl 1:S95-8. DOI: 10.1080/10398560701701288 External link
Higginbotham N, Connor L, Albrecht G, Freeman S, Agho K. Validation of an environmental distress scale. EcoHealth. 2006;3; 245-54. DOI: 10.1007/s10393-006-0069-x External link