Previous oil spills and disasters from other human-made events have shown that mental health effects to the affected population are widespread and can be significant.
There has been concern regarding the likelihood that existing public health surveillance was not capturing the mental health effects to the population affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill. The objectives of this study were to assess the mental health needs of coastal communities in the states of Alabama and Mississippi following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
A cluster sampling methodology was used to assess the mental health status of coastal residents in three counties in Alabama four months following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and in the Gulf Coast counties in Mississippi 5.5 months after the oil spill.
A total of 469 residents of the selected areas were interviewed. Between 15.4 and 24.5% of the respondents reported depressive symptoms, with 21.4-31.5% reporting symptoms consistent with an anxiety disorder, and 16.3-22.8% reporting ≥14 mentally unhealthy days within the past 30 days. Overall, there were more negative quality of life indicators and negative social context outcomes than in the state's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. Between 32.1% and 35.7% of all households reported decreased income since the oil spill, and 35.5-38.2% of all households reported having been exposed to oil.
The proportion of respondents reporting negative mental health parameters in the affected Alabama and Mississippi coastal communities is higher than the proportion reported in the 2008 and 2009 BRFSS state reports, suggesting that the public health response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should focus on mental health services in these communities.