Posted April 21, 2008 – Two years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents who lost their homes in the devastating hurricane were more than five times as likely to experience serious psychological distress a year after the disaster as those who did not.
And Blacks reported substantially higher rates of serious psychological distress than did Whites. Those are some of the findings from a study presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in New Orleans Monday.
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The study, conducted by University of Michigan researcher Narayan Sastry and Tulane University's Mark VanLandingham, examines the mental health status of pre-Katrina residents of the city of New Orleans in the fall of 2006 – one year after the hurricane. It also describes and analyzes disparities in mental health by race, education and income.
A total of 144 individuals participated in the pilot study, including many who moved away from the area after the disaster and had not returned a year later. More than half the study participants were Black; nearly two-thirds had a high school diploma or less education; and nearly 60 percent were unmarried.
Nearly three-fourths were employed in the month before the hurricane hit. About 60 percent of study participants had no psychological distress at the time of the interview, while about 20 percent had mild-to-moderate mental illness, and another 20 percent had serious mental illness.
They were asked whether they felt nervous, hopeless, restless, fidgety or depressed, or whether everything was an effort or worthless? Almost one-third of Blacks were found to have a high degree of distress, compared with just 6 percent of Whites.
Those with higher incomes and more education were much less likely to experience serious psychological distress, and those born in Louisiana were much more likely to have serious distress.
"Our findings suggest that severe damage to one's home is a particularly important factor behind socioeconomic disparities in psychological distress, and possibly behind the levels of psychological distress," Sastry said. "These effects may be partly economic, because, for most families who own their home, home equity is the largest element of household wealth."
Apart from the financial losses, severely damaged or destroyed housing may prevent people who want to return to New Orleans from doing so because they lack a place to live. This affects their social ties, their employment, and many other factors.” For more on the study, go to ScienceDaily.com.