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The Psychological Effects of Hurricane Katrina and Other Natural Disasters

Hurricane Katrina Impacted Mental Health of Victims and Observers


Updated January 29, 2012

In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Louisiana coast and moved northeast through the state of Mississippi. By the time Hurricane Katrina moved by Jackson, Mississippi, the hurricane had weakened; however, it was still being classified as a category 1 hurricane (winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour). As a result, people living near or in the state capital of Mississippi experienced property destruction and other hardships, such as fuel shortages and extended periods without electricity.

Beyond these devastations, however, many people in Mississippi were psychologically affected by the hurricane.

Hurricane Katrina's Effect on People with Mental Illness

Although the hurricane had a negative impact on many people throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, people with a pre-existing psychiatric disorder might have been at greater risk for being negatively affected by the hurricane. A study by two researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center examined whether this was the case.

In their study, they surveyed approximately 80 patients at an outpatient clinic in Jackson, Mississippi before and after the hurricane. Most of the patients were suffering from depression or some kind of anxiety disorder, including PTSD. They asked people about their experiences during Hurricane Katrina, including the amount of time they watched television coverage of the hurricane, and collected information on their depression and PTSD symptoms.

What They Found

The researchers found that many people experienced hardships as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

  • Approximately 40% were without electricity for 6 days or more.
  • Just over 40% had some kind of damage to their home.
  • Approximately 10% were without water for 6 days or more.

In addition, they found that many people watched coverage of the hurricane on television. Almost 60% of people surveyed watched four or more hours of television coverage of the hurricane.

Interestingly, they also found that people's depression was connected to the amount of television coverage they watched on the looting of New Orleans and the Convention Center in New Orleans. The severity of people's PTSD symptoms following the hurricane, on the other hand, was connected to the amount of television coverage seen on the damage of the disaster, the looting of New Orleans, rescue efforts, evacuation efforts, the Superdome in New Orleans, and the Convention Center in New Orleans.

People fared better in regard to the experience of PTSD symptoms if they watched less television coverage overall, as well as less television coverage of the looting in particular, and used prayer as a way of coping with the stress of the hurricane.

Seeking Out Help

A natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, can have a major impact on a person's life. Following a traumatic event such as this, it is normal to want to seek out as much information as you can, and watching television may be one way to do this. However, as this study and other studies on the effects of disasters show, extensive viewing of television coverage of traumatic events may put people at risk for depression and PTSD. Therefore, it may be important to keep an eye on what you and your family are watching after a stressful event occurs.

Help for Coping with a Natural Disaster

If you are coping with the effects of a natural disaster, help is available. The National Center for PTSD provides a number of fact sheets on the effects of natural disasters and how to cope with them. You can also find treatment providers in your area through UCompare HealthCare from About.com, as well as the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.



Mcleish, A.C., & Del Ben, K.S. (2008). Symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in an outpatient population before and after Hurricane Katrina. Depression and Anxiety, 25, 416-421.

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