Repeated exposure to hurricanes is associated with adverse psychological symptoms and may be linked to increased mental health problems, according to a new study.

The findings, which hold true whether the impact is direct, indirect or through the media, are critical to understanding the psychological impact of recurring natural disasters, especially in the context of the escalating threat of climate change.

The results show that people do not get used to recurring natural disasters, and over time, the reaction to subsequent hurricanes becomes more negative.

“We show that people are unlikely to become accustomed or accustomed to climate-related natural disasters, the frequency and severity of which will increase in the coming years,” says Dana Rose Garfin, assistant professor of nursing and public health at the University of California, Irvine and first author. research in JAMA open network.

“Our results suggest a potential mental health crisis associated with those who directly experienced the hurricane or knew someone who did, as well as those who spent several hours talking to the media about the hurricane.”

For the first longitudinal study of its kind, the researchers assessed Florida residents hours before Hurricane Irma made landfall and examined the same people again after Hurricanes Irma and Michael to identify any mental health changes that could happen over time. Both were Category 5 storms that struck in succession: Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

The team found that repeated exposure to the threat of catastrophic hurricanes was associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and persistent fear and anxiety. In turn, these psychological symptoms were associated with more severe social and occupational impairments, including difficulty interacting with others, completing work tasks, and other daily activities.

“Some distress is normal after traumatic and extremely stressful events,” says Garfin. “Most people recover over time and show resilience. However, as climate-related catastrophic hurricanes and other natural disasters, such as wildfires and heat waves, escalate, this natural recovery process may be disrupted by repeated exposure to hazards.

“What’s more, we’ve followed people for a long time over two hurricane seasons, and our data shows that as people experience multiple events over time, psychological symptoms build up and intensify, potentially heralding a mental health crisis.”

The researchers say anxiety may be an adaptive response to natural disasters and may motivate people to take protective measures in preparation for the next event. They recommend that future research explore how to use this response in a way that does not exacerbate mental illness.

The researchers also believe that the strong relationship between media interactions and stress suggests that social channels and mainstream media may play a critical role in effectively communicating the risk of increased distress with repeated threats.

Additional contributors from Stanford University and UC Irvine. The National Science Foundation supported the work.

Source: University of California, Irvine

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