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January 31, 2012

Mental Health Still an Issue for Katrina Survivors

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina have struggled with poor mental health for years after the storm, according to a new study of low-income mothers in the New Orleans area. The study's lead author, Christina Paxson of Princeton University, said that the results were a departure from other surveys both in the design and the results. The researchers were able to collect data on the participants before Katrina and nearly five years after the August 2005 storm, finding a persistence of poor mental health and gaining insights into how different types of hurricane-related stressors affect mental health.

The study revealed continued high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in contrast to other long-term studies that suggested faster recovery, said Paxson who is Princeton's Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “I think the lesson for treatment of mental health conditions is don't think it's over after a year. It isn't.”

In addition to helping mental health professionals aid survivors of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, the research may guide policymakers in addressing areas that had a significant impact on the women in the study, such as home damage and rebuilding. Due to the makeup of the sample, Paxson cautioned that the study's results cannot be assumed to apply to the population as a whole, but they shed light on natural disasters' effects on a particularly vulnerable group.

The paper appears in the January issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.



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