Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Original Research

Mental Health Needs Assessment After the Gulf Coast Oil Spill—Alabama and Mississippi, 2010

Danielle Buttkea1 c1, Sara Vagia1, Tesfaye Bayleyegna1, Kanta Sircara1, Tara Strinea2, Melissa Morrisona3, Mardi Allena4 and Amy Wolkina1

a1 National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chamblee, Georgia USA

a2 Division of Behavioral Surveillance, Public Health Surveillance Program Office, Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia USA

a3 Career Epidemiology Field Officer Program, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia USA (assigned to the Alabama State Department of Health)

a4 Mississippi Department of Mental Health, Jackson, Mississippi USA


Previous oil spills and disasters from other human-made events have shown that mental health effects to the affected population are widespread and can be significant.

There has been concern regarding the likelihood that existing public health surveillance was not capturing the mental health effects to the population affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill. The objectives of this study were to assess the mental health needs of coastal communities in the states of Alabama and Mississippi following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

A cluster sampling methodology was used to assess the mental health status of coastal residents in three counties in Alabama four months following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and in the Gulf Coast counties in Mississippi 5.5 months after the oil spill.

A total of 469 residents of the selected areas were interviewed. Between 15.4 and 24.5% of the respondents reported depressive symptoms, with 21.4-31.5% reporting symptoms consistent with an anxiety disorder, and 16.3-22.8% reporting ≥14 mentally unhealthy days within the past 30 days. Overall, there were more negative quality of life indicators and negative social context outcomes than in the state's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. Between 32.1% and 35.7% of all households reported decreased income since the oil spill, and 35.5-38.2% of all households reported having been exposed to oil.

The proportion of respondents reporting negative mental health parameters in the affected Alabama and Mississippi coastal communities is higher than the proportion reported in the 2008 and 2009 BRFSS state reports, suggesting that the public health response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should focus on mental health services in these communities.

D Buttke, S Vagi, T Bayleyegn, K Sircar, T Strine, M Morrison, M Allen, A Wolkin. Mental health needs assessment after the Gulf Coast oil spill—Alabama and Mississippi, 2010. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27(5):1-8.

(Received May 07 2011)

(Accepted September 01 2011)

(Revised September 02 2011)

(Online publication August 21 2012)


  • disaster;
  • mental health;
  • oil spill


c1 Correspondence: Danielle Buttke, DVM, PhD, MPH National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 4770 Buford Highway NE Chamblee, Georgia 30341 USA E-mail:


  Conflicts of interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.