Post-Disaster Mental Health

Superstorm Sandy's $65 billion price tag made it the second costliest weather disaster in U.S. history and its impact on the long-term mental health of those affected is still being assessed.

Photo of a house destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with the word "hope" spray painted on it.Trauma expert, Sarah Lowe, an assistant professor of Psychology at Montclair State, is specifically studying the effect of Sandy on the mental health of residents in the New York City neighborhoods most severely affected by the storm. A recent grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will enable her team to extend their research.

Lowe, co-investigator and project director, is collaborating with project investigator Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health. Their research team has found that the prevalence of probable post-traumatic stress disorder among New Yorkers living in areas most affected by Sandy was relatively low at 2 percent. However, the prevalence of probable major depression was 8.9 percent – relatively high, as compared with representative samples of people exposed to other natural disasters.

Such data indicate that there are significant mental health needs in the many NYC communities affected by Sandy, Lowe says. With the new grant, the team will collaborate with RAND Corporation researchers, who have collected data on the activities of and relationships between communitybased organizations after Sandy, and between each organization and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

"We are investigating how the presence of community-based organizations in participants' communities and the characteristics of these networks influenced postdisaster mental health," Lowe says.

"It is certainly possible that our results will show how networks among community-based organizations and the NYC DOHMH could be strengthened to improve disaster response and mitigate postdisaster psychological adversity," she predicts. "The results could also indicate which services were most effective in bolstering survivors' mental health."