College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Study Shows One in Five Katrina Survivors May Have Experienced Stress Disorder

Following the aftermath of destruction from Hurricane Katrina, nearly one in five Gulf Coast residents likely experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a University of Mississippi study.

The findings, part of an interdisciplinary research project funded by the National Science Foundation, were made public last month at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference in Boston.

Researcher Michael Hirschel, UM doctoral student in psychology, said the level of PTSD among the nearly 400 residents sampled appear higher than that of an average citizen. (Hurricane Katrina claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people, the most fatalities from a hurricane since 1928.)
“In terms of PTSD prevalence, 19 percent responded in a manner suggesting a PTSD diagnosis as probable,” Hirschel said. “This was a screening, not an in-depth interview process, so the total number of residents suffering from PTSD is unknown without additional follow-up.”

PTSD is defined as a strong emotional response with specific symptoms as a result of an event perceived as life threatening. Symptoms included flashbacks or dreams, avoidance of people or places associated with the event and increased arousal or trouble sleeping.

The study also examined general self-efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to have an impact on one’s environment or on a desired outcome. The research indicates that an increase in general self-efficacy is associated with less psychological distress, Hirschel said.

The primary aim of the research was to examine in greater depth the relationship between PTSD and general self-efficacy. The two have seldom been investigated in conjunction with one another in past research, and they have rarely been studied with samples of hurricane survivors, Hirschel said.

A native of Charlotte, N.C., Hirschel reported his research as a poster presentation at the APA conference. He was one of 21 graduate students from across the country invited to present his findings at APA’s Datablitz paper session, which highlights excellence in graduate student research.

“I was surprised and excited to be chosen,” he said. “I was nervous, but it was a great opportunity for me.”

Stefan Schulenberg, assistant professor of clinical psychology who assisted Hirschel with the study, said the research helps promote a greater understanding of the relationship between PTSD and self-efficacy.

“I am extremely proud of Michael’s efforts,” Schulenberg said. “His research is poised to make a unique and worthwhile contribution to the literature and the field of clinical psychology.”

Conducted approximately five months after the storm blew ashore, the study surveyed 399 residents from Hancock and Harrison counties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hirschel was invited to participate in the research as part of his master’s thesis work at UM, which he completed in May. He is working on his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at UM.

For more information about the UM Department of Psychology, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/psychology/ .