Coping in the Aftermath of Deepwater Horizon
Fishing boats tilting on their sides on the water.
The Gulf of Mexico fishing industry suffered much physical damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (pictured), followed by economic damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (NOAA)
Drawing of Gulf of Mexico states, explaining mental health effects.
Residents of states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico reported various negative mental health impacts following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Florida Sea Grant/Anna Hinkeldey)

By Tara Skelton, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium

Jan. 25, 2017 - Ever wonder about mental health issues in communities recovering from a man-made disaster?

The Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team recently published an overview of peer-reviewed research into how individuals and communities coped in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Studies show that the spill impacted the mental health of some coastal residents, including cleanup workers and those who relied on a healthy Gulf Coast for their occupations.

Gulf Coast locals experienced the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in different ways. Some coastal residents witnessed oiling on the water and shoreline. Others, including cleanup workers, physically encountered oil in their daily lives. People in many industries, including fishing, tourism, and more, lost income as a result of the spill.

The 2010 spill came five years after Hurricane Katrina hit much of the same area, compounding some effects.
Several studies have examined the mental health impacts of the oil spill on people living along the Gulf Coast. While short-term repercussions are well-documented, long-term outcomes have been harder to identify. As a result, scientists are developing new ways to determine the consequences of disasters, both natural and man-made, on the physical and mental health of communities.

To learn more, go to Sea Grant in the Gulf of Mexico and read “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact on people’s health: Increases in stress and anxiety.” It’s one of many publications the team has developed to extend our understanding of oil spills science, from dispersant use to seafood safety.

Tara Skelton is the Oil Spill Science Outreach Team Communicator for the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. The four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant College Programs with funding from partner Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative has assembled a team of oil spill science outreach specialists to collect and translate the latest peer-reviewed research for those who rely on a healthy marine ecosystem for work or recreation. To learn more about the team’s products and presentations, visit gulfseagrant.org/oilspillscience