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The lasting mental health effects of Hurricane Sandy on residents of the Rockaways

Rebecca M. Schwartz, PhD, Patricia Rothenberg, BA, Samantha M. Kerath, MS, Bian Liu, PhD, Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD



Objective: To examine the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the mental health and substance use of residents of the Rockaways, which is a lower income, ethnically diverse region of NYC that was devastated by the hurricane.


Design: Prospective, cross sectional.


Setting: Rockaways, Queens, NYC community residents.


Participants: From October 2013 to April 2015, 407 adult residents of the Rockaways completed self-report, validated measures of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress symptoms as well as indicators of substance use (alcohol, illicit substance, and tobacco use) and exposure to Hurricane Sandy.


Main Outcome Measures: Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, alcohol use, illicit substance use, and tobacco use.


Results: Differences in exposure scores on outcomes were compared using Wilcoxon tests. Associations between hurricane exposure (categorized into “personal” and “property” exposure) and outcomes were investigated using logistic regression, adjusting for demographic covariates, mental health history, and time since hurricane. The study participants were predominately female (57.5 percent) and black (63.9 percent) and average age was 44.7 years. Multivariable results showed that property exposure scores were positively associated with increased risks of mental health difficulties across all three mental health symptom outcomes, but not substance use. Increased personal and total exposures were also significantly associated with increased Posttraumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Substance use variables were not significantly associated with any of the hurricane exposure indicators.


Conclusions: The present study quantifies the lasting impact that Hurricane Sandy has had on the mental health of Rockaways residents indicating the need for continued recovery efforts and increased mental health service provision in this vulnerable region.



Rockaways, mental health, substance use, Hurricane Sandy

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