Although the short-term mental health consequences of Hurricane Andrew have been documented, the study of sociology doctoral student and lead author David Russell and professors John Taylor and Donald Lloyd of adolescents is the first to show that it had long-term effects on mental health.

"We found that people who experienced prior stressful events and who had pre-existing symptoms of psychological distress were more adversely affected by exposure to hurricane-related stressful events," Russell said. "Based on our findings, we believe intervention efforts should include assessments of the prior experiences and psychological well-being of disaster victims. Doing so will aid response workers in identifying those most at risk for developing post-disaster psychological problems."

The findings suggest that the mental health consequences of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, will be even greater. The researchers studied data from 975 Miami-Dade County adolescents who lived through Hurricane Andrew to assess psychological distress before, during and five to seven years after the storm. Not only did Andrew cause emotional distress immediately following the hurricane, the researchers found that it indirectly affected mental health years later. The storm of emotion following the hurricane increased risk for certain stressful life events, such as failing a grade in school, being sent away from home or having to live away from parents.

Russell said the findings likely underestimated the true psychological impact of Hurricane Andrew because those most adversely affected by the hurricane may have relocated from the Miami-Dade area, and thus would have been left out of the follow-up surveys.; Source: Florida State University