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Using validated psychological assessment instruments, this study examined the psychological distress associated with potential language barriers experienced by over 135 000 Puerto Rican residents who either temporarily or permanently migrated to the continental United States with the landfall of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Participants were Puerto Rican residents (n = 107) who remained in Puerto Rico (control) or left the island for at least 3 months because of Hurricane Maria (migrants). Participants completed an online survey in their preferred language (Spanish or English), which assessed self-reported English language proficiency, Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for DSM 5, Patient Health Questionnaire 9-item depression scale, and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale. It was hypothesized that migrants with lower self-reported English proficiency would have comparatively higher indices of post-disaster distress than those with a higher proficiency.
Dividing the migrant group by preferred language for questionnaire completion, the Fisher’s exact test showed significant differences in prevalence of severe mental distress, as defined by K6 scores above 13, between the Spanish-preferring migrants (30.4%), English-preferring migrants (0%), and controls (9.6%).
Our results support a possible correlation between decreased language proficiency in post-disaster migrants and a higher risk factor for severe mental distress.
The aim of this study was the construction and validation of a novel research instrument to quantify the degree of post-hurricane trauma and distress in an affected population. The Post-Hurricane Distress Scale (PHDS) has quantitative measures of both acute and prolonged distress, attributable to meteorological and hydrological disasters.
A careful evaluation of existing questionnaires, as well as extensive canvasing of the post-Maria population of Puerto Rico, availed the construction of the PHDS. The PHDS consists of 20 items, organized into 4 subscales. The PHDS was pre-validated (n=79), revised, and then distributed to a broad sampling of the post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rican population (n=597). Validation, including factor analysis, analyses of concurrent validity, discriminant validity, and internal reliability, was performed.
After comparing various scales, factor loading profiles, concurrent validities, and models of fit, we show that the PHDS is best scored as a single 0–6 distress scale. When compared with the Traumatic Exposure Severity Scale, the PHDS shows superior concurrent validity, more accurately predicting scores for the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory, Impact of Event Scale – Revised, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 Scale. The PHDS shows good internal reliability and discriminant validity.
The PHDS represents a novel, useful instrument for disaster first-responders and researchers. The prompt identification of high-risk populations is possible using this instrument. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:82-89)
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