The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy continues to affect thousands of New Jersey residents and may increase the odds of residents experiencing mental health distress, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to a new study.
Findings from the Sandy Child and Family Health Study, a representative population study of 1 million New Jersey residents, showed the primary homes of more than 100,000 residents were structurally damaged by the storm. Among New Jersey residents whose homes suffered significant damage, 27% still are experiencing moderate or severe mental health distress and 14% report the signs and symptoms of PTSD, even two and a half years later.
“Sandy may have occurred nearly three years ago, but it has had an enduring impact on those individuals and communities exposed to it,” David Abramson, PhD, MPH, principal investigator for the study, said in a news release. The study, which was conducted by Rutgers University in New Brunswick and New York University in collaboration with Columbia University and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, was funded by the New Jersey Department of Health.
“It was striking to us and to our field team of over 30 interviewers how Sandy still dominated the lives of so many New Jersey residents even two and a half years after the event,” Rutgers University’s Donna Van Alst, PhD, MSW, the study’s co-principal investigator, said in the release. “People across the economic spectrum were affected.”
Other findings from the study included:
Children in hurricane-damaged homes are at higher risk for mental health problems than children’s homes who suffered no damage. The study showed children living in homes with minor damage were more than five times as likely to feel sad or depressed than children in homes that were not damaged, more than eight times as likely to have difficulty sleeping, and five times as likely to feel nervous or afraid. Children whose homes suffered major damage also were affected, although those in homes with minor damage demonstrated the most substantial mental health effects.
The health effects associated with catastrophic damage to one’s home are similar to those felt by people living in deep poverty. A number of the residents whose homes suffered major damage said they often did not have enough money for rent or mortgage, to pay for utilities, to pay for transportation, or to pay for all the food they or their family needed.
Mold was associated significantly with asthma and with mental health distress.
The findings from this study are based on face-to-face surveys with 1,000 randomly sampled residents living in New Jersey’s nine most-affected counties. The sample is representative of the 1,047,000 residents living in the “disaster footprint,” a geographic area that was exposed to Sandy mapped using flood storm surge data and housing damage data, according to the release.
The study is modeled upon a similar five-year study conducted after Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study, according to the release. “The similarities between Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are quite disturbing,” Abramson said in the release. “Many adults and children are still experiencing emotional and psychological effects, so long after the storm passed. In a significant number of cases, housing damage is at the heart of the problem, and it’s very concerning to hear that so many of the federally financed programs have ended even though the needs still clearly persist.”
The study is a partnership of four academic centers – the Program on Population Impact, Recovery, and Resiliency at NYU’s College of Global Public Health; the Institute for Families, at Rutgers’ School of Social Work; Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness; and Colorado State University’s Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis.
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