Disaster-related media exposure may increase the association between forecasted posttraumatic stress and psychological outcomes following a hurricane or large storm. Findings from this study were published in JAMA Network Open.

Florida residents who experienced Hurricane Irma and participated in the GfK KnowledgePanel (GfK Custom Research North America) were recruited into the study to assess their responses to the hurricane, a quick moving, category 4 storm.

The first Internet-based survey was administered and completed during the 60 hours prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival, and the second survey was completed approximately 1 month after the storm. A total of 1637 participants were included in the first survey and 1478 participated in the second survey. The primary outcome measures included posttraumatic stress responses, psychological distress, functional impairment, and worry about future events.

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Posthurricane adjustment was significantly associated with exposure to media coverage of the hurricane (β=0.21; 95% CI, 0.11-0.31; P <.001) as was forecasted posttraumatic stress (β=0.44; 95% CI, 0.35-0.52; P <.001). According to analyses using structural equation modeling, there was a significant “indirect path from forecasted [posttraumatic stress] to adjustment after the storm occurred through exposure to hurricane-related media coverage” (β=0.07; 95% CI, 0.05-0.08; P <.001). Previous mental health diagnoses were also found to be associated with both survey 1–forecasted posttraumatic stress response (β=0.16; 95% CI, 0.08-0.24; P <.001) and survey 2 adjustment (β=0.20; 95% CI, 0.12-0.29; P <.001).

One potential limitation of this study, according to the investigators, was that the sample size may not have been fully representative of the Florida population because of the challenges of recruiting participants from hard-to-recruit areas.

“That prestorm psychological factors have a stronger association than perceived evacuation zone status or direct hurricane exposure with storm-related media consumption and subsequent adjustment suggests a need to improve hurricane-related risk communications for the public,” the researchers concluded.

Reference

Thompson RR, Holman EA, Silver RC. Media coverage, forecasted posttraumatic stress symptoms, and psychological responses before and after an approaching hurricane. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e186228.