Strong relationships with neighbors had a protective effect on risk for PTSD among older adults exposed to Hurricane Sandy, a destructive hurricane that affected the northeast United States in 2012.
Rachel Pruchno, PhD, of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and colleagues evaluated the mental health impact of Hurricane Sandy on adults aged 50 to 74 years and presented study findings at the 2015 Hurricane Sandy Conference in New York.
“We did two things; one is that we did a survey of more than 3,000 people who had participated in an earlier survey. All of the people who we studied had been exposed in some way or another to Hurricane Sandy,” Pruchno told Healio.com/Psychiatry.
Researchers then conducted qualitative interviews with 30 individuals from the previous study who experienced major home damage from the hurricane.
Analysis indicated older adults who reported stronger neighborhood connections reported fewer depressive symptoms.
Despite this, neighborhood connections played a less central role in decreasing negative feelings when homes were damaged.
Individuals who developed PTSD after Hurricane Sandy had fewer social connections prior to the hurricane.
“Some people live in neighborhoods where they don’t see their neighbors or know what they look like. In times of disaster, what we know is that social supports from family and friends are really important for older people experiencing a wide variety of stressors,” Pruchno said. “The problem is when Hurricane Sandy hit many of these people lost power and cell phones died and so they lost contact with their usual social support networks: their kids, their family at a distance. So in that situation, neighbors become even more important and those older people who could reach out to neighbors and neighbors were able to support each other did much better.”
Pruchno recommended encouraging development of strong neighborhood bonds may benefit older individuals in times of stress and in times of natural disaster.
“One never knows when the next disaster is going to strike and they're not going to be able to talk with their family and their friends,” she said. – by Amanda Oldt
Pruchno R, et al. Social Capital and Resilience of Older People Exposed to Hurricane Sandy. Presented at: 2015 Hurricane Sandy Conference; Aug. 10-11, 2015; New York.