Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 October 2012
Globally, floods are the most common and among the most devastating of natural disasters. Natural disasters such as floods impact local businesses, increasing local unemployment by up to 8.2%. Previous research has linked individual losses from disasters with symptoms such as posttraumatic stress disorder. However, little is known about the impact of work disruption and job loss on post-disaster psychological symptoms. University students, who are often living far away from family support structures and have limited resources, may be particularly vulnerable. This study examines student psychological health following a large flood at a university.
Students who experienced flood-related job loss or disruption had a higher proportion of psychological symptoms than those who did not experience job loss or disruption, controlling for individual loss such as injury, home loss or evacuation.
On June 8, 2008, a major flood affected seven US Midwestern states. A total of two dozen people were killed and 148 injured, although no deaths or serious injuries were reported in the population used for this study. At the study university, operations were closed for one week, and 20 buildings were severely damaged. A cross-sectional survey of all students enrolled during the semester of the flood was conducted. Students were sent an online survey six weeks after the flood. In addition to questions about damage to their homes, the survey asked students if their work was disrupted because of the floods. Symptoms of PTSD were measured through the modified Child PTSD Symptom Scale.
Of the 1,231 responding students with complete surveys, 667 (54.2%) reported that their work was disrupted due to the floods. Controlling for gender, ethnicity, grade, and damage to the student's home, students reporting work disruption were more than four times more likely to report PTSD symptoms (95% CI, 2.5-8.2). Work disruption was independently associated with decreases in general mental and physical health following the floods, as well as with increases in alcohol use.
Disaster research has focused on damage to individuals and homes, but there has been little focus on work losses. Individuals who lose their jobs may be a vulnerable population post-disaster.