Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness

Research Article

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Mental Health Effects on Residents in Heavily Affected Areas

Howard J. Osofsky, Joy D. Osofsky c1 and Tonya C. Hansel


Background: Mental health issues are a significant concern after disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This study was designed to assess the mental health effects on residents of areas of southeastern Louisiana affected by the oil spill.

Methods: Telephone and face-to-face interviews were conducted with residents (N = 452) assessing concerns and direct impact.

Results: The results show that the greatest effect on mental health related to the extent of disruption to participants' lives, work, family, and social engagement, with increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress. Given the location of the oil spill affecting communities that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, results also revealed that losses from Hurricane Katrina were highly associated with negative mental health outcomes. Conversely, the ability to rebound after adversity and place satisfaction were highly associated with better mental health outcomes.

Conclusions: Enhanced understanding of mental health effects after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will help in determining directions for much-needed mental health services after the disaster and in contributing to the knowledge of complex traumatization and the ability to rebound after adversity.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:280–286)

(Received October 06 2010)

(Accepted April 25 2011)

Key Words:

  • disaster;
  • mental health;
  • oil spill;
  • petroleum;
  • mental disorders;
  • mental health;
  • environmental pollution;
  • water pollution;
  • Louisiana;
  • reslience, psychological;
  • stress disorders, post-traumatic;
  • social environment;
  • anxiety;
  • depression;
  • Hurricane Katrina


c1 Correspondence: Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr Joy D. Osofsky, Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 1542 Tulane Ave, 2nd Floor, New Orleans, LA 70112 (e-mail: josofs@lsuhsc.edu).

Author Affiliations: All of the authors are with the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.