Exposure to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Associated Resource Loss, and Long-Term Mental and Behavioral Outcomes

Published in: Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, Volume 13, Issue 5-6, pages 889-897 (December 2019). doi: 10.1017/dmp.2019.3

Posted on RAND.org on September 16, 2020

by Rajeev Ramchand, Rachana Seelam, Vanessa Parks, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Matthew R. Lee, Melissa L. Finucane

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The aim of this study was to (1) assess the long-term mental and behavioral health outcomes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of residents in the Gulf Coast and to (2) identify populations that may be particularly vulnerable to future disasters.


The Survey of Trauma, Resilience, and Opportunity in Neighborhoods in the Gulf (STRONG) is a population-representative sample of 2520 coastal residents surveyed in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in 2016. We present prevalence estimates for positive screens of depression, anxiety, and alcohol misuse, as well as receipt of health care services. We examine differences in these outcomes across states, affected occupational groups, and demographic groups.


Resource loss attributed to the spill was associated with positive screens for depression and anxiety. Almost 50% of adults screened positive for depression, anxiety, or alcohol misuse, but less than 20% of these currently access mental health care. Black residents were less likely to have health insurance and a usual source of care but were more likely to have visited the emergency room in the past 12 months.


Surveillance data from STRONG can help policy-makers and other stakeholders develop targeted approaches to foster resilience, particularly among vulnerable populations, and thereby mitigate the effects of future disasters.

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