Long-term effects of disaster on depressive symptoms: Type of exposure matters

Maureen Wilson-Genderson, Allison R. Heid, Rachel Pruchno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Rationale: Natural disasters have the potential to change the lives of older people, yet most studies rely on small convenience samples, few include assessments of people prior to the disaster, and only a handful examine the effects of different types of exposure. Objective: Our analyses add new knowledge to the literature by examining the ways in which four types of exposure (i.e., geographic, peri-traumatic stress, personal and property loss, and post-storm hardship) affect depressive symptoms experienced by older people over a five-year period. Method: We analyzed four waves of data from the ORANJ BOWL panel using multilevel mixed effects models. Results: We found that although each type of exposure had an independent effect on depressive symptoms, the effects of peri-traumatic stress were dominant. Conclusions: As nearly 20% of people in the United States will experience a natural disaster during the course of their lives, it is critical to understand how disaster exposure can influence mental health because each type of exposure demands a different response. Finding that an individual's emotional response during the disaster plays an important role in the development of depressive symptoms suggests that reduction of exposure to traumatic stress during a storm (i.e., evacuation from a storm area) is important for older people. Likewise, immediate interventions following a disaster that target people experiencing high levels of peri-traumatic distress may be particularly effective and that failing to attend to these people may miss a critical opportunity and result in years of suffering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-91
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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