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In reviewing the development of mental health interest in and research about disasters, there are many seminal studies and publications, building progressively in their contributions to the science of disaster field. The field of disaster mental health research emerged from inquiries into the phenomena associated with the mental health impacts of war. Mental health aspects of disasters became a more specific focus during the 1970s and 1980s. Interventions have been a focus of review in terms of current knowledge, effective models, and the need for research and evaluation of interventions that are provided. Resilience has long been recognized by trauma experts, though they acknowledge it may coexist with painful emotional scars. Researchers across the globe have contributed to the expanding science of disaster mental health. A number of studies focused on the stressor components, particularly those related to psychological trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In June 1981, south-eastern Kentucky experienced serious and widespread flooding. Losses amounted to over nine million dollars and, despite the sparse population of the area, over 500 families were left homeless for varying periods of time. In May 1984, a storm system brought tornadoes, strong winds, and severe, extensive flooding to this same area. More than 6000 homes were damaged and over 5000 persons were forced out of their homes by the flooding. The losses, totalling over 20 million dollars, prompted a presidential disaster declaration.
What impact did these two floods have upon their rural Appalachian victims? Were these individuals able to take these events ‘in stride’ or did they present a serious challenge to their ability to cope? Did these floods leave a lasting impact upon the mental and physical wellbeing of these individuals or did they only result in relatively minor and short-lived emotional upset? Were some people more affected than others? What was the impact on the community as a whole? Were these communities able to ‘rally around’ their members or were they shattered and split apart? Did daily life in the community ‘bounce back’ to normal in a few weeks or was the sense of community irreparably altered? These questions and others were the focus of our study of the psychosocial impact of the Kentucky floods.
A considerable body of scientific literature has examined the impact of such disasters on the mental and physical health of victims.
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