Why Does Disaster Recovery Work Influence Mental Health?: Pathways through Physical Health and Household Income
Disaster recovery work increases risk for mental health problems, yet the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. We explored links from recovery work to post-traumatic stress (PTS), major depression (MD), and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms through physical health symptoms and household income in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As part of the NIEHS GuLF STUDY, participants (N = 10,141) reported on cleanup work activities, spill-related physical health symptoms, and household income at baseline, and mental health symptoms an average of 14.69 weeks (SD = 16.79) thereafter. Cleanup work participation was associated with higher physical health symptoms, which in turn were associated with higher PTS, MD, and GAD symptoms. Similar pattern of results were found in models including workers only and investigating the influence of longer work duration and higher work-related oil exposure on mental health symptoms. In addition, longer worker duration and higher work-related oil exposure were associated with higher household income, which in turn was associated with lower MD and GAD symptoms. These findings suggest that physical health symptoms contribute to workers’ risk for mental health symptoms, while higher household income, potentially from more extensive work, might mitigate risk.