Hurricanes Exposure, Media Linked to Increase in Floridians’ Mental Symptoms

Garfin reports that while conducting the research, he received grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, NIH. See the study for the relevant financial disclosures from all other authors. Nakabayashi does not report any relevant financial disclosures.

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Repeated media-based exposure to hurricanes was associated with increasing psychological symptoms in Florida residents who experienced Hurricanes Irma and Michael, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open

“Hurricane Exposure Correlates With Psychological Distress, And Storm Severity Correlates With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Dana Rose Garfin, PhD, of the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues wrote.

Building whose facade is damaged

Source: Adobe Stock.

Garfin and fellow researchers wanted to collect information about the risk of: Hurricane exposure and its associations with psychosocial, mental health-related outcomes and functional impairment in a representative sample of Florida residents who experienced repeated hurricane exposure.

The population-based study included 2,873 individuals who received surveys at three different time intervals: in the 60 hours prior to Hurricane Irma (September 8, 2017 to September 11, 2017); 1 month after Hurricane Irma (October 12, 2017 to October 29, 2017); and after Hurricane Michael (October 22, 2018 to November 6, 2018).

The main outcomes were post-traumatic stress symptoms, general distress, concerns about future events and functional limitations. Path models were used to assess associations of individual-level factors (prior mental health, recent adversity), previous storm exposure (loss and/or injury, evacuation), and direct, indirect, and media-based exposures to Hurricanes Irma and Michael with those outcomes. Data was analyzed from July 19-23, 2021.

The results showed that 1,637 individuals responded out of 2,873 after the first interval, 1,478 responded after the second (90.3% retention) and 1,113 after the third interval (75.3% retention from the second interval).

Prior mental illness (b, 0.18; 95% CI, 0.07-0.28), prior hurricane-related loss and/or injury (b, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.02-0.17), hours of Hurricane Irma-related media exposure (b, 0.03; 95% CI, 0.02-0.04), were in a evacuation zone during Hurricane Irma and no evacuation (b, 0.14; 95% CI 0.02-0.27) and loss and/or injury during Hurricane Irma (b 0.35; 95% CI 0.25-0, 44) were positively associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSD) after Hurricane Irma.

Associations were similar when examining responses to Hurricane Michael. In addition, data showed that, following Hurricane Michael, previous mental illness (b, 0.17; 95% CI, 0.06-0.28) and PTSD were associated with Hurricane Irma (b, 0.11; 95% CI, , 0.001-0.22) and Michael (b, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.47-0.69) were associated with functional limitations of the respondents.

“Creating policies that bridge pre- to post-disaster treatment and provide community resources for these individuals can help break the cycle of distress,” Garfin and colleagues wrote.

In a related editorial, Masaki Nakabayashi, PhD, of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Tokyo, agreed with Garfin and colleagues’ assessment, saying their findings could spur economists to address direct and indirect exposure, cumulative mental stress and community resilience in tackling drawing up policy on natural disasters.


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