Having strong roots and community commitment can actually lead to more stress and health problems, especially in times of crisis, according to a new LSU study.
In the immediate aftermath of last year’s BP oil disaster, LSU sociologists decided to research the effects on the people of coastal Louisiana, while most other research focused on the environmental impacts.
The results they found are that those people most connected to their communities struggled with greater anxiety, depression and health issues, LSU sociologists Matthew Lee and Troy Blanchard said.
“It (community attachment) is typically a good thing, but during a crisis it can actually be the opposite,” Lee said. “The lesson is how good something is for you really depends on the context in which it’s taking place.”
“It’s a surprising finding scientifically,” Blanchard added. “However, I think it makes sense.”
Preliminary study results were published online for the American Behavioral Scientist academic journal.
The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 22, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and ultimately becoming the most costly oil leak in U.S. history.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Lee said, it was eventually realized there was a lack of research on the short-term public health effects of the people affected. But surveying they did of people in Baton Rouge after Katrina showed similar results to the BP survey, he said.
“The people who were more socially embedded here were much more stressed because they were involved in the relief efforts,” Lee said.
“You don’t get a chance to look at public health concerns in times of crisis very often,” he said.
That is why “time was of the essence,” Blanchard said, in quickly surveying after the BP oil leak began.
They worked with the LSU Public Policy Research Lab to conduct more than 900 telephone surveys with households in the coastal regions of Lafourche, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes in June 2010 while the oil was still gushing from the Gulf of Mexico and washing ashore in Louisiana.
The new result is their “Community Attachment and Negative Affective States in the Context of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster” report.
The survey showed how deeply connected many southern Louisiana people are to their communities, Blanchard said, especially with the region so reliant on its natural resources.
The results also are interesting because the area is so vulnerable to natural disasters and manmade environmental problems, he said.
“People were still bouncing back from Hurricane Katrina and they chose to stay,” Blanchard said. “It’s really two major disasters in a row in such a short period of time.”
And those most committed may have suffered the most, he said.
“They’re really rooted culturally and really committed to the communities,” Blanchard said. “But their level of attachment … really increased the adverse impacts on their lives.”