2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado experience, mental health reactions, and service utilization: Cross-sectional assessments at approximately 6 months and 2.5 years post-event.

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PLOS Current Disasters


Introduction. On May 22, 2011 the deadliest tornado in the United States since 1947 struck Joplin, Missouri killing 161 people, injuring approximately 1,150 individuals, and causing approximately $2.8 billion in economic losses. Methods. This study examined the mental health effects of this event through a random digit dialing sample (N = 380) of Joplin adults at approximately 6 months post-disaster (Survey 1) and a purposive convenience sample (N = 438) of Joplin adults at approximately 2.5 years post-disaster (Survey 2). For both surveys we assessed tornado experience, posttraumatic stress, depression, mental health service utilization, and sociodemographics. For Survey 2 we also assessed social support and parent report of child strengths and difficulties. Results. Probable PTSD relevance was 12.63% at Survey 1 and 26.74% at Survey 2, while current depression prevalence was 20.82% at Survey 1 and 13.33% at Survey 2. Less education and more tornado experience was generally related to greater likelihood of experiencing probable PTSD and current depression for both surveys. Men and younger participants were more likely to report current depression at Survey 1. Low levels of social support (assessed only at Survey 2) were related to more probable PTSD and current depression. For both surveys, we observed low rates of mental health service utilization, and these rates were also low for participants reporting probable PTSD and current depression. At Survey 2 we assessed parent report of child (ages 4 to 17) strengths and difficulties and found that child difficulties were more frequent for younger children (ages 4 to 10) than older children (ages 11 to 17), and that parents reporting probable PTSD reported a greater frequency of children with borderline or abnormal difficulties. Discussion. Overall our results indicate that long-term (multi-year) community disaster mental health monitoring, assessment, referral, outreach, and services are needed following a major disaster like the 2011 Joplin tornado.