Slippery Slope of Emotions

BP oil spill takes psychological toll of those in Gulf Coast region

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new study explores the psychological impact of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill last year that resulted in millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than five months.

The largest oil spill in history created psychological distress for many people living in nearby coastal communities with and without oil exposure.

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine traveled to the region shortly after the spill to assess the acute psychological distress, coping mechanisms and perceived risk (regarding the environmental impact and potential health consequences) of people living along the Gulf Coast.

Florida residents appeared as anxious and depressed as those living in Alabama in spite of no direct oil exposure at the time time of the study. (Alabama at the time had experienced direct exposure.)

The highest degree of psychological distress was seen in those who suffered income loss because of the spill. These residents had considerably more tension, anger, fatigue and overall mood disturbances than those whose incomes were not affected by the spill. These residents were shown to have fewer psychological resources, and they presented lower resilience scores.

Researchers recruited 71 residents in Florida and 23 in Alabama for the study using interviews and standardized assessments of psychological distress, resilience and coping. Coping mechanisms ranged from prayer and meditation to drugs and alcohol.

Study author Lynn Grattan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said interventions need to be available immediately in communities where impacted individuals live when catastrophes such as the oil spill occur.

The complications and effects of the BP oil spill could compound matters for those already suffering with major depression.

Depression impacts an estimated 15 million adults in the United States. Depression is a state of prolonged low mood and aversion to activity. A person's thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being are affected and may include feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, irritability, or restlessness. The primary treatments for major depression are psychological counseling and medications. Medication therapies include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). SSRIs include: fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), sertraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa®) and escitalopram (Lexapro®). SNRIs include: duloxetine (Cymbalta®), venlafaxine (Effexor®) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq®). Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an NDRI. Atypical antidepressants include trazodone (Desyrel®) and mirtazapine (Remeron®). Each medication category has different side effects.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 17, 2011
Last Updated:
March 9, 2011