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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds That When It Comes to Post-Disaster Mental Health Problems, Place Matters

The risk of post-disaster mental health problems and the odds of recovery over time vary depending on residents’ proximity to the disaster and the individual- and community-level factors present at different locations, according to a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher.

The study, in Scientific Reports, analyzed trauma exposure, social supports, and other factors among 561 residents of Galveston and Chambers counties in Texas in the months after Hurricane Ike hit the area in September 2008. The research team, which included senior author Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of BUSPH, detected a cluster of chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) on Galveston Island, close to the area where the hurricane made landfall. The risk of suffering from chronic PTSS was nearly five times higher inside the cluster than outside, and was also higher for people who lost sentimental possessions or pets, suffered financial losses, or were 55 years old or older.

Understanding such “longitudinal trajectories” of post-disaster mental health, including resilience and recovery after trauma, is “crucial to identifying vulnerable regions and populations” so that mental-health services may be targeted to those who need help the most, the authors said. The study is the first to show that variations in such trajectories are tied to geographic location, as well as to individual and community factors.

“In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, early responders may be guided towards those mostly in need, whereas in the longer-term, mental health consequences could be mitigated through early detection of mental health needs in the population,” the researchers said.

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