Depression Before A Disaster Raises Health Risks Afterward


Individuals who demonstrate symptoms of depression prior to a stressful event, such as a disaster, may experience increased inflammation following the stressful event, according to a Rice University study.

Since inflammation is a major risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions this research has significant implications for crisis survivors.

The researchers followed 38 men, and 86 women who lived in Texas City, Texas prior to and following a petrochemical refinery explosion there in March, 2005. More than 170 refinery workers were injured by the blast, and 15 were killed.

Study participants that experienced even minor depressive symptoms, and reported concern about their physical health before the disaster had a 75 percent rise in immune markers for inflammation after the explosion. Participants without depressive symptoms or concern for physical health beforehand showed no elevation of immune markers following the incident.

“If you're already [slightly depressed or stressed out about health], your immune system is primed to have a much more dramatic effect,” said researcher Chris Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychology at Rice. “This could explain other researchers' findings demonstrating increased cardiovascular events (any event that can damage the heart muscle) following natural disasters.”

Pre-explosion data were taken from two surveys that the participants had completed for a different study. One survey measured perceived risk for health problems owed to residing near a petrochemical plant. The other indicated which symptoms of depression were experienced during the previous two weeks. Post-explosion information was gathered two to six months after the event.

The researchers are now doing a similar study in Houston. “It is certainly possible that we will see these same health patterns in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” said Fagundes.

Source: Rice University
Photo credit: Paul Hudson


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