The disaster beyond the shore
By Claudia Adrien
The psychological effects of the BP oil spill, the largest recorded environmental disaster in human history, extend far beyond people living around the Gulf of Mexico, a new study finds.
Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers reported that even in areas that did not have oil exposure, people still experienced elevated levels of anxiety and depression and reduced ability to show resilience in difficult emotional and financial situations because of the disaster.
“The findings highlight the substantial psychological impact that the oil spill has had on coastal communities in Florida and Alabama,” said J. Glenn Morris, M.D., director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor of medicine in the College of Medicine. “In particular, the impact was not directly related to the amount of oil that reached an area. Instead, it correlated most closely with financial loss resulting from the spill.”
The researchers asked the study participants — mostly men involved in the Gulf fishing industries, or people who had suffered direct financial damages because of the spill — to answer a range of psychological questions, from how their financial circumstances were affected by the spill to how well they were able to cope in the months following the disaster. Participants were also assessed on cognitive tests to determine dexterity, speed and attention span.
Among people living in Franklin County, where oil had not reached the shore, participants showed similar levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue, anger and overall mood disturbance as the citizens living in Alabama’s directly affected communities, especially if the participant’s livelihood depended on fishing or had been affected financially by the spill.