Gulf Coast Residents Worse Off Emotionally After BP Oil Spill

by Dan Witters

Depression diagnoses, daily stress and worry all increase for Gulf residents

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties experienced a decline in their overall emotional health, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Emotional Health Index, in the 15 weeks after the onset of the BP oil spill. Those living in inland counties in the same Gulf of Mexico states showed no such drops in emotional health in the oil spill's aftermath.


These findings are based on 2,598 interviews conducted from Jan. 2-Aug. 6, 2010, with residents of 25 Gulf Coast-facing counties from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas. Of these interviews, 1,239 occurred after the April 20 oil spill. During the same period, 30,657 interviews were conducted with residents of inland counties of Gulf Coast states and 179,435 in non-Gulf states as a part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, again split roughly equally on either side of April 20.

The Emotional Health Index is one of six sub-indexes that make up the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, and includes 10 individual items. Several of these items, including daily worry, stress, sadness, and clinical depression, provide insight into the potential negative emotional health effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties reported 25.6% more clinical diagnoses of depression in the period after the oil spill compared with before it. It is important to note that this question is posed as a diagnosis occurring at any point in the respondent's life, and it does not necessarily imply that the oil spill itself created new depression incidences. Still, the notable increase in diagnoses reveals that clinical depression along the Gulf coastline was climbing at a time when it was flat throughout the remainder of the country.


The Well-Being Index also measures daily mood in terms of stress, worry, and sadness experienced "a lot of the day yesterday." Across each of these daily mood metrics, residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties experienced measurable increases in these negative emotions that their inland counterparts and residents of non-Gulf Coast states did not. The magnitude of these worsening daily emotional experiences, however, may be more modest than some might expect, given the severity of the oil spill itself and the extensive damage to local communities.


City Satisfaction and Momentum Decline Post-Oil Spill in Gulf Counties

In addition to a decline in emotional wellbeing, Gulf coast residents' views of their communities also suffered. Satisfaction with the "city or area where you live" also declined modestly after the oil spill in the Gulf Coast-facing states, as did the percentage of people who believe that their city or area is "getting better as a place to live." Again, Gallup did not find the same declines in emotional wellbeing among respondents who live further inland.



Taken together, these data document the extent to which residents living alongside the Gulf of Mexico have experienced a decrease in emotional health and satisfaction with their communities since the BP oil spill. Similar declines in these measures are not seen among populations further inland. These findings provide supporting evidence of the need for enhanced psychological assistance for residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties, and for the targeting of these efforts to residents living along the coastline itself rather than all residents living in the affected states.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Survey Methods

Results are based 2,598 interviews conducted from Jan. 2- Aug. 6, 2010, with residents of 25 Gulf Coast-facing counties from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas. In addition to the collection of these data, 30,657 interviews were conducted with residents of inland counties of Gulf Coast states and 179,435 were conducted with non-Gulf states as a part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. For results based on the three sample types for either before or after the oil spill event, one can say with 95% confidence that the typical margin of sampling error is ±3.0, ±0.9, and ±0.4 percentage points, respectively.


Florida Gulf Coast-facing counties included: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Bay, Gulf, and Walton. Mississippi Gulf Coast-facing counties included: Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, and Pearl River. Louisiana Gulf Coast-facing counties included: Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary, Iberia, Vermilion, Cameron, and St. Tammany. Alabama Gulf Coast-facing counties included: Baldwin and Mobile. Texas' Gulf Coast-facing county was Jefferson. The collection of coast-facing and inland counties in these states is weighted to ensure that they are demographically representative of these counties.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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