skip to main content

Title: Natural hazards and mental health among US Gulf Coast residents
Background: Individuals affected by disasters are at risk for adverse mental health sequelae. Individuals living in the US Gulf Coast have experienced many recent major disasters, but few studies have explored the cumulative burden of experiencing multiple disasters on mental health. Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the relationship between disaster burden and mental health. Methods: We used data from 9278 Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study participants who completed questionnaires on perceived stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2011-2013. We linked 2005-2010 county-level data from the Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States, a database of loss-causing events, to participant's home address. Exposure measures included total count of loss events as well as severity quantified as property/crop losses per capita from all hazards. We used multilevel modeling to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for each exposure-outcome relationship. Results: Total count of loss events was positively associated with perceived stress (ORQ4:1.40, 95% CI:1.21-1.61) and was inversely associated with PTSD (ORQ4:0.66, 95% CI:0.45-0.96). Total duration of exposure was also associated with stress (ORQ4:1.16, 95% CI:1.01-1.33) but not with other outcomes. Severity based on cumulative fatalities/injuries was associated with anxiety (ORQ4:1.31, 95% CI:1.05-1.63) and stress (ORQ4:1.34, 95% CI:1.15-1.57), and severity based on cumulative property/crop losses was associated with anxiety (ORQ4:1.42, 95% CI:1.12-1.81), depression (ORQ4:1.22, 95% CI:0.95-1.57) and PTSD (ORQ4:1.99, 95% CI:1.44-2.76). Keywords: PTSD; disasters; mental health; natural hazards.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Importance

    Marked elevation in levels of depressive symptoms compared with historical norms have been described during the COVID-19 pandemic, and understanding the extent to which these are associated with diminished in-person social interaction could inform public health planning for future pandemics or other disasters.


    To describe the association between living in a US county with diminished mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic and self-reported depressive symptoms, while accounting for potential local and state-level confounding factors.

    Design, Setting, and Participants

    This survey study used 18 waves of a nonprobability internet survey conducted in the United States between May 2020 and April 2022. Participants included respondents who were 18 years and older and lived in 1 of the 50 US states or Washington DC.

    Main Outcome and Measure

    Depressive symptoms measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9); county-level community mobility estimates from mobile apps; COVID-19 policies at the US state level from the Oxford stringency index.


    The 192 271 survey respondents had a mean (SD) of age 43.1 (16.5) years, and 768 (0.4%) were American Indian or Alaska Native individuals, 11 448 (6.0%) were Asian individuals, 20 277 (10.5%) were Black individuals, 15 036 (7.8%) were Hispanic individuals, 1975 (1.0%) were Pacific Islander individuals, 138 702 (72.1%) were White individuals, and 4065 (2.1%) were individuals of another race. Additionally, 126 381 respondents (65.7%) identified as female and 65 890 (34.3%) as male. Mean (SD) depression severity by PHQ-9 was 7.2 (6.8). In a mixed-effects linear regression model, the mean county-level proportion of individuals not leaving home was associated with a greater level of depression symptoms (β, 2.58; 95% CI, 1.57-3.58) after adjustment for individual sociodemographic features. Results were similar after the inclusion in regression models of local COVID-19 activity, weather, and county-level economic features, and persisted after widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccination. They were attenuated by the inclusion of state-level pandemic restrictions. Two restrictions, mandatory mask-wearing in public (β, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.15-0.30) and policies cancelling public events (β, 0.37; 95% CI, 0.22-0.51), demonstrated modest independent associations with depressive symptom severity.

    Conclusions and Relevance

    In this study, depressive symptoms were greater in locales and times with diminished community mobility. Strategies to understand the potential public health consequences of pandemic responses are needed.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Ethnic–racial discrimination, the differential treatment of individuals based on ethnic or racial group membership, predicts poor mental health outcomes such as anxiety. This is supported by long-standing theories on the social determinants of health and minority stress. However, these theories are rarely expanded to neurobiological sciences, limiting our understanding of mechanisms underlying observed associations. One potential neurobiological pathway between ethnic–racial discrimination exposure and anxiety is that ongoing exposure to racially charged encounters presents imminent threats that may modify stress-sensitive neurocircuitry, like the amygdala.

    The current study evaluated whether amygdala volume mediated associations between ethnic–racial discrimination exposure and anxiety symptoms in Latina girls, a group exhibiting heightened levels of untreated anxiety and disproportionately subjected to ethnic–racial discrimination.

    Thirty predominantly Mexican-identifying Latina girls residing in Southern California (MAge = 9.76,SD = 1.11 years) completed a T1-weighted structural MRI scan. Using thePerceptions of Racism in Children and Youth, participants self-reported the prevalence and severity of various discriminatory experiences. Participants also self-reported their anxiety symptoms via theScreen for Child Anxiety and Related Emotional Disorders.Controlling for total intracranial volume and annual household income, an indirect effect of ethnic–racial discrimination on anxiety symptoms via left amygdala volume was observed,β = −0.28,SE = 0.17, BC 95% CI [−0.690, −0.017]. The current findings suggest that the left amygdala is sensitive to racialized threats in childhood and that stress-related alterations may, in part, contribute to elevated anxiety in Latina girls. Our data elucidate a potential mechanism by which this form of sociocultural stress can adversely impact mental health, particularly in the transition from middle childhood to early adolescence, a period marked by a host of interlinked neurophysiological and social changes.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract Background and Objectives

    Climate change threatens well-being and has increased the prevalence of weather-related disasters. We investigated age differences in emotional well-being among adults who had experienced hurricane-related, unavoidable stressors. Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) posits that age-related motivational shifts buffer older adults against psychological distress, whereas the strength and vulnerability integration model (SAVI) posits that unavoidable stressors are more detrimental to older adults’ well-being compared to younger adults.

    Research Design and Methods

    We used existing self-report data from a life-span sample of adults (N = 618, M age = 58.44 years, standard deviation = 16.03, 18–96 years) who resided in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The sample was recruited in 2016 to examine the sequelae of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and contacted again after the 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons. In 2016, participants reported their depression, anxiety, and trauma history. After the 2017–2018 hurricane seasons, participants reported their depression, post-traumatic stress, exposure to hurricane-related adversities, injuries and casualties, self-efficacy, and perceived health.


    In line with SST, older age was associated with reporting significantly fewer depression and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, even after controlling for exposure to hurricane-related adversities, injuries and casualties, health, self-efficacy, pre-hurricane depression, anxiety, and trauma. The association between older age and fewer depression symptoms was stronger among those who experienced hurricane-related adversities compared to those who had not, in contrast to predictions based on SAVI.

    Discussion and Implications

    We discuss the implications of age-related strengths in emotional well-being for policy and practice in the context of the ongoing climate crisis.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Mental distress among young people has increased in recent years. Research suggests that greenspace may benefit mental health. The objective of this exploratory study is to further understanding of place‐based differences (i.e., urbanity) in the greenspace‐mental health association. We leverage publicly available greenspace data sets to operationalize greenspace quantity, quality, and accessibility metrics at the community‐level. Emergency department visits for young people (ages 24 and under) were coded for: anxiety, depression, mood disorders, mental and behavioral disorders, and substance use disorders. Generalized linear models investigated the association between greenspace metrics and community‐level mental health burden; results are reported as prevalence rate ratios (PRR). Urban and suburban communities with the lowest quantities of greenspace had the highest prevalence of poor mental health outcomes, particularly for mood disorders in urban areas (PRR: 1.19, 95% CI: 1.16–1.21), and substance use disorders in suburban areas (PRR: 1.35, 95% CI: 1.28–1.43). In urban, micropolitan, and rural/isolated areas further distance to greenspace was associated with a higher prevalence of poor mental health outcomes; this association was most pronounced for substance use disorders (PRRUrban: 1.31, 95% CI: 1.29–1.32; PRRMicropolitan: 1.47, 95% CI: 1.43–1.51; PRRRural 2.38: 95% CI: 2.19–2.58). In small towns and rural/isolated communities, poor mental health outcomes were more prevalent in communities with the worst greenspace quality; this association was most pronounced for mental and behavioral disorders in small towns (PRR: 1.29, 95% CI: 1.24–1.35), and for anxiety disorders in rural/isolated communities (PRR: 1.61, 95% CI: 1.43–1.82). The association between greenspace metrics and mental health outcomes among young people is place‐based with variations across the rural‐urban continuum.

    more » « less
  5. This research full paper presents screening rates for mental health issues and life-stress events in engineering-focused community college students during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Specifically, it attempts to answer the following research questions: 1) What is the overall rate of various mental health conditions among engineering-focused community college students, 2) What effects has the pandemic had on baseline stress levels engineering-focused community college, and 3) What effects has the pandemic had on quality of life, such as sleep habits and financial security of engineering- focused community college students? Data for this paper was collected via survey from May–July 2020 and includes responses from 84 students at 24 community colleges. The survey itself was a compilation of several widely- used instruments for measuring overall mental health and stress levels in a population. These instruments include the Kessler-6 for psychological distress, the PHQ for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, the PC-PTSD for PTSD-like symptoms, and the SRRS for inventorying stressful life events. Among the major findings, 32% of respondents reported a major change in financial situation, 27% reported loss of employment, and 13% reported ceasing formal schooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 32% of respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened their housing security situation, 38% reported that COVID-19 has worsened their food security situation, and 36% report that COVID-19 has decreased their ability to access instruction, course materials, or course supplies. Finally, of respondents who completed at least one mental health screening instrument, 70% screened positive for at least one potentially diagnosable condition, while only 9% reported ever receiving a mental health diagnosis. Index Terms—Community College, Mental Health, Disability, Accessibility, Equity, Inclusion, Wellness 
    more » « less