Skip to main content

The Long-Term Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Women’s Depression and Mental Distress

  • Ariane Lisann Rung (a1), Evrim Oral (a2), Elizabeth Fontham (a1), Daniel J. Harrington (a3), Edward J. Trapido (a1) and Edward S. Peters (a1)...

The purpose of the study is to describe changes in mental health among women following an oil spill and to examine their association with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS).


The Women and Their Children’s Health study followed 2038 women in Louisiana after the DHOS. Subjects were interviewed in 2012-2014 and 2014-2016. Oil spill exposure was characterized using survey items about economic and physical exposures. Outcomes were depressive symptoms and mental distress.


After adjustment for relevant demographics, depressive symptoms increased over 2 time points following the DHOS, whereas symptoms of mental distress decreased. For every year increase in time since the DHOS, the rate ratio for depressive symptoms increased by a factor of 1.08. In contrast, the rate ratio for mental distress decreased by a factor of 0.97. In addition, initial associations between economic and physical exposure to the DHOS persisted up to 6 years after the spill; women who were more highly exposed experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms (rate ratios ranged from 1.08 to 1.11) and mental distress (rate ratios from 1.05 to 1.11) at each time point than women who were less exposed.


A better understanding of recovery patterns following an oil spill can help direct critical mental health response efforts. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018;page 1 of 8)

Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to Ariane Lisann Rung, PhD, MPH, Epidemiology Program, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Public Health, 2020 Gravier Street, 3rd floor, New Orleans, LA 70112-2784 (e-mail:
Hide All
1. Norris, FH, Friedman, MJ, Watson, PJ. 60,000 disaster victims speak: part II. Summary and implications of the disaster mental health research. Psychiatry. 2002;65:240-260.
2. Goldmann, E, Galea, S. Mental health consequences of disasters. Annu Rev Public Health. 2014;35:169-183.
3. Palinkas, LA, Russell, J, Downs, MA, et al. Ethnic differences in stress, coping, and depressive symptoms after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1992;180:287-295.
4. Picou, JS, Gill, DA, Dyer, CL, et al. Disruption and stress in an Alaskan fishing community: initial and continuing impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ind Crisis Q. 1992;6:235-257.
5. Picou, JS, Gill, DA. The Exxon Valdez oil spill and chronic psychological stress. Am Fish Soc Symp. 1996;18:879-893.
6. Palinkas, LA, Petterson, JS, Russell, J, et al. Community patterns of psychiatric disorders after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Am J Psychiatry. 1993;150:1517-1523.
7. Palinkas, LA, Downs, MA, Petterson, JS, et al. Social, cultural, and psychological impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Hum Organ. 1993;52:1-13.
8. Arata, CM, Picou, JS, Johnson, GD, et al. Coping with technological disaster: an application of the conservation of resources model to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. J Trauma Stress. 2000;13:23-39.
9. Palinkas, LA, Petterson, JS, Russell, JC, et al. Ethnic differences in symptoms of post-traumatic stress after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2004;19:102-112.
10. Lyons, RA, Temple, JM, Evans, D, et al. Acute health effects of the Sea Empress oil spill. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1999;53:306-310.
11. Carrasco, JM, Perez-Gomez, B, Garcia-Mendizabal, MJ, et al. Health-related quality of life and mental health in the medium-term aftermath of the Prestige oil spill in Galiza (Spain): a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2007;7:245.
12. Sabucedo, JM, Arce, C, Senra, C, et al. Symptomatic profile and health-related quality of life of persons affected by the Prestige catastrophe. Disasters. 2010;34:809-820.
13. Lee, CH, Kang, YA, Chang, KJ, et al. Acute health effects of the Hebei oil spill on the residents of Taean, Korea. J Prev Med Public Health. 2010;43:166-173.
14. Song, M, Hong, YC, Cheong, HK, et al. Psychological health in residents participating in clean-up works of Hebei Spirit oil spill. J Prev Med Public Health. 2009;42:82-88.
15. Kim, YM, Park, JH, Choi, K, et al. Burden of disease attributable to the Hebei Spirit oil spill in Taean, Korea. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e003334.
16. Choi, K-H, Lim, M-H, Ha, M, et al. Psychological vulnerability of residents of communities affected by the Hebei Spirit oil spill. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2016;10:51-58.
17. Osofsky, H, Osofsky, J, Hansel, T. Deepwater Horizon oil spill: mental health effects on residents in heavily affected areas. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2011;5:280-286.
18. Grattan, LM, Roberts, S, Mahan, WT Jr, et al. The early psychological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Florida and Alabama communities. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119:833843.
19. Buttke, D, Vagi, S, Bayleyegn, T, et al. Mental health needs assessment after the Gulf Coast oil spill-Alabama and Mississippi, 2010. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27:401-408.
20. Fan, AZ, Prescott, MR, Zhao, G, et al. Individual and community-level determinants of mental and physical health after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: findings from the Gulf States population survey. J Behav Health Serv Res. 2015;42:23-41.
21. Rung, AL, Oral, E, Fontham, E, et al. Mental health impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill among wives of clean-up workers. Epidemiology. 2015;26:e44-e46.
22. Shenesey, JW, Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. Perceived resilience: examining impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill one-year post-spill. Psychol Trauma. 2015;7:252258.
23. Rung, AL, Gaston, S, Oral, E, et al. Depression, mental distress and domestic conflict among Louisiana women exposed to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Women and Their Children’s Health study. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124:1429-1435.
24. Drescher, CF, Schulenberg, SE, Smith, CV. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Mississippi Gulf coast: mental health in the context of a technological disaster. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2014;84:142-151.
25. Cherry, KE, Sampson, L, Nezat, PF, et al. Long-term psychological outcomes in older adults after disaster: relationships to religiosity and social support. Aging Ment Health. 2015;19(5):430-443.
26. Norris, FH, Friedman, MJ, Watson, PJ, et al. 60,000 disaster victims speak: part I. An empirical review of the empirical literature, 1981-2001. Psychiatry. 2002;65:207-239.
27. Aguilera, F, Méndez, J, Pásaro, E, et al. Review on the effects of exposure to spilled oils on human health. J Appl Toxicol. 2010;30:291-301.
28. Gill, DA, Picou, JS. Technological disaster and chronic community stress. Soc Nat Resour. 1998;11:795-815.
29. Laffon, B, Pasaro, E, Valdigesias, V. Effects of exposure to oil spills on human health: updated review. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2016;19:105-128.
30. Buttke, D, Vagi, S, Schnall, A, et al. Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) one year following the Gulf Coast oil spill: Alabama and Mississippi, 2011. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27:496-502.
31. Morris, JG Jr, Grattan, LM, Mayer, BM, et al. Psychological responses and resilience of people and communities impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2013;124:191-201.
32. Peters, ES, Rung, AL, Bronson, MH, et al. The Women and Their Children’s Health (WaTCH) study: methods and design of a prospective cohort study in Louisiana to examine the health effects from the BP oil spill. BMJ Open. 2017;7:e012887.
33. Harris, PA, Taylor, R, Thielke, R, et al. Research electronic data capture (REDCap) – a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. J Biomed Inform. 2009;42:377-381.
34. Peres, LC, Trapido, E, Rung, AL, et al. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and physical health among adult women in Southern Louisiana: the Women and Their Children’s Health (WaTCH) study. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124:1208-1213.
35. Radloff, LS, Teri, L. Use of the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale with older adults. Clin Gerontol. 1986;5:119-136.
36. Kessler, RC, Galea, S, Jones, RT, et al. Mental illness and suicidality after hurricane Katrina. Bull World Health Organ. 2006;2006:930-939.
37. SAS Institute. 9.4. SAS. Cary, NC: SAS Institute; 2012.
38. Hansel, CT, Osofsky, JH, Osofsky, DJ, et al. Longer-term mental and behavioral health effects of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill. J Mar Sci Eng. 2015;3:12601271.
39. Palinkas, LA. A conceptual framework for understanding the mental health impacts of oil spills: lessons from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Psychiatry. 2012;75:203-222.
40. Rung, AL, Gaston, S, Robinson, WT, et al. Untangling the disaster-depression knot: the role of social ties after Deepwater Horizon. Soc Sci Med. 2017;177:19-26.
41. Boe, HJ, Holgersen, KH, Holen, A. Mental health outcomes and predictors of chronic disorders after the North Sea oil rig disaster: 27-year longitudinal follow-up study. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2011;199:49-54.
42. Rhodes, J, Chan, C, Paxson, C, et al. The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the mental and physical health of low-income parents in New Orleans. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2010;80:237-247.
43. Paxson, C, Fussell, E, Rhodes, J, et al. Five years later: recovery from post traumatic stress and psychological distress among low-income mothers affected by Hurricane Katrina. Soc Sci Med. 2012;74:150-157.
44. Rose, G. Sick individuals and sick populations. Int J Epidemiol. 1985;14:32-38.
45. Marshall, BK, Picou, JS, Schlichtmann, J. Technological disasters, litigation stress and the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Law Policy. 2004;26(2):289307.
46. Gregorio, D. REFILE-TIMELINE-BP oil spill, litigation at a glance. Reuters; July 2, 2015.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness
  • ISSN: 1935-7893
  • EISSN: 1938-744X
  • URL: /core/journals/disaster-medicine-and-public-health-preparedness
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 14 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 109 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 15th February 2018 - 22nd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.