A group of researchers from the University of Delaware have examined how suicide rates are influenced by various natural disasters. Natural disasters may include tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. and as climate change becomes more harmful, we are seeing these disasters occurring more frequently, each more serious than the last. In fact, the group measured 281 disasters over a 12-year period.
Factoring in the effect natural disasters have on local communities, their economies and their infrastructure, it might be plausible to argue that disasters can also cause severe anxiety and emotional distress. The founding director of the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences’ epidemiology program, Jennifer Horney was among the scientists who conducted this research.
The researchers observed disaster declaration data and discovered that, when compared to suicide rates before and after a disaster occurred, overall suicide rates grew by 23%. The article, which was published in the “Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention,” states that the suicide rates grew for all disasters including ice storms, hurricanes, floods and severe storms.
Horney explains that the research findings are important as those deaths could be prevented if disaster preparedness and response was better. In addition, people should be aware that the risk of suicide is increased in individuals with more social vulnerabilities who live in areas with a higher risk of destruction by disasters.
The researchers observed counties in the United States with one major disaster declaration in the 2003–2015 period. This designation was based on data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Suicide rates were estimated based on three, twelve-month periods before and after a disaster occurred for each county. Even though only nine types of disasters are given as disaster declarations by FEMA, hurricanes, floods and storms were included in the study because they occurred frequently.
Researchers discovered that for all types of disasters combined and also individually for ice and severe storms as well as flooding, rates of suicide grew in the first and second years after a disaster hit then decreased in the third year. After a hurricane hit, however, suicide rates increased in the first year by roughly 26% before they dropped to the baseline rate in the second year. Flooding increased suicide rates by almost 18% and in the second year by 61% before decreasing to the baseline rate later.
Horney stated that the counties most affected by hurricanes recorded the largest growths in suicide rates in the first year. This, she says, makes sense as they were the most common disaster areas assessed in the study. Horney added that more mental health resources addressing issues arising from natural disasters needed to be made available, and the research findings only add on to this.
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