WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While federal and state government authorities identified Superstorm Sandy as the second costliest storm in U.S. history at over $71.3 billion in damages, this figure does not reflect the emotional costs. Residents in the ZIP codes most affected by Superstorm Sandy experienced a 25% increase in depression diagnoses in the six weeks immediately following the storm. Similarly, those living elsewhere in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut also saw an increase in depression diagnoses of 17% compared to pre-storm levels.
Given the adult population of the states most impacted by Sandy, increases in depression of this magnitude could represent over 540,000 new diagnoses in the most affected areas and over 160,000 new diagnoses in the less affected areas
These findings are based on daily interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from Sept. 15-Dec. 15.
For this analysis, Gallup included a total of 6,414 interviews with residents of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Gallup further broke out these interviews into two groups -- ZIP codes hardest hit by Sandy -- those receiving individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- and the remaining ZIP codes in those three states. Gallup's analysis includes:
- For areas hardest hit: 1,713 interviews occurred before the storm (Sept. 15-Oct. 28) and another 1,690 after the storm (Nov. 1-Dec. 15).
- For the remaining areas that were not hit as hard: 1,433 interviews before the storm and 1,578 after the storm.
During the same period, Sept. 15-Dec. 15, Gallup also conducted 71,265 interviews in the remaining 47 states.
The depression question is posed as a diagnosis occurring at any point in the respondent's life, and the results do not necessarily imply that the storm itself created new depression cases. Still, the notable increase depression in the areas most impacted by Sandy occurred at a time when there was no statistically significant change throughout the remainder of the country.
Worry, Anger Also Increase in Sandy-Affected Areas
Residents living in the ZIP codes most impacted by Sandy -- as well as those living elsewhere in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut -- also report a significant increase in worry after the storm. For comparison, those living in the nation's other 47 states experienced no change in their level of worry before and after Sandy.
Those living in the ZIP codes most affected saw a significant increase in anger as well after the storm. While worry increased by 14% throughout the three states overall -- both in more affected and less affected ZIP codes -- increases in daily anger were limited to the most impacted areas and characterized by no significant change elsewhere in the three states or around the country.
These data may provide a conservative estimate of the emotional toll of the storm. It is unclear, for example, how residents who received direct aid were emotionally affected compared with residents who did not; it may be that those who received aid would have higher emotional costs. Depression diagnoses also require being examined by a mental health expert, which may be an activity that could be suppressed in the aftermath of the storm of this nature, as the victims address more immediate needs.
Additionally, these survey responses are only from adults over the age of 18, and thus do not reflect the effects the storm had on children. Mental health experts and federal authorities say that children may be even more at risk for emotional trauma after a disaster.
As Congress considers disaster relief for the victims of Superstorm Sandy, the storm's impact on the mental health of those suffering its aftermath provides significant evidence for the larger consequences of major natural disasters. Taken together, these data document the direct emotional impact of Superstorm Sandy.
Increased depression, worry, and anger can have significant long-term effects for individuals, their families, and their communities, including increased healthcare costs, morbidity rates, and risk of substance abuse. To minimize these deleterious consequences when facing future predicted disasters, like a hurricane or a snowstorm, leaders should not overlook resources for enhanced psychological and emotional assistance both before and after the event. In addition, getting ahead of the disaster with the proper preparedness messaging will also be likely to ease these emotional effects.
For those who Sandy -- or any major disaster -- affected, life may never return to the way it was, but addressing these emotional costs will be an important step along the path to recovery.
About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.
Results are based on 6,414 interviews conducted from Sept. 15-Dec. 15, with adult residents of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Of these interviews, 1,713 occurred before the storm (Sept. 15-Oct. 28) and another 1,690 after the storm (Oct. 31-Dec. 15) in areas most impacted by Sandy, with another 1,433 before the storm and 1,578 after the storm among remaining residents of the three states. During the same period, 35,184 interviews were completed before the storm and 36,081 after it among residents of the remaining 47 states.
For results based on the three sample types for either before or after the storm, one can say with 95% confidence that the typical margin of sampling error is ±2.1, ±2.4, and ±0.5 percentage points, respectively.
The most affected ZIP codes that received individual assistance were listed by FEMA on Nov. 5.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cellphone 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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.