A mixed-methods study of psychological distress following an environmental catastrophe

the case of the Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire in Australia

Darryl Maybery, Rebecca Jones, Joanna F. Dipnall, Emily Berger, Timothy Campbell, Alexander McFarlane, Matthew Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Background and Objectives: This study assessed the psychological impacts of six weeks of smoke exposure from the 2014 Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia, between two and three years after the incident. Design and Methods: A cross-sectional survey of adults investigated outcomes for the most exposed community, Morwell (n = 3091), compared with a similar, but minimally exposed community, Sale (n = 960). Adopting a mixed-methods research approach, 26 interviews with Morwell residents further examined qualities of the experience. Results: Morwell residents scored significantly higher on the Impact of Event Scale–Revised (difference = 6.53; 95%CI: 5.37, 7.35, p < 0.001) and Kessler 10-item general distress scale (difference = 1.69; 95%CI: 1.05, 2.33, p < 0.001). More than two years after the mine fire, Morwell residents reported moderate levels of distress related to the incident. This impact was also evident in interviews, where intrusive thoughts were the most frequently reported symptom of posttraumatic stress. Furthermore, interviews highlighted the vulnerability of people with pre-existing mental health concerns. Conclusions: The elevated psychological distress apparent within the Morwell community over two years after an extended pollution event highlights the need to improve post-incident recovery responses to such events, particularly for supporting residents that are more vulnerable.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

Keywords

  • bushfires
  • disaster
  • Hazelwood coalmine fire
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • smoke exposure

Cite this

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title = "A mixed-methods study of psychological distress following an environmental catastrophe: the case of the Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire in Australia",
abstract = "Background and Objectives: This study assessed the psychological impacts of six weeks of smoke exposure from the 2014 Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia, between two and three years after the incident. Design and Methods: A cross-sectional survey of adults investigated outcomes for the most exposed community, Morwell (n = 3091), compared with a similar, but minimally exposed community, Sale (n = 960). Adopting a mixed-methods research approach, 26 interviews with Morwell residents further examined qualities of the experience. Results: Morwell residents scored significantly higher on the Impact of Event Scale–Revised (difference = 6.53; 95{\%}CI: 5.37, 7.35, p < 0.001) and Kessler 10-item general distress scale (difference = 1.69; 95{\%}CI: 1.05, 2.33, p < 0.001). More than two years after the mine fire, Morwell residents reported moderate levels of distress related to the incident. This impact was also evident in interviews, where intrusive thoughts were the most frequently reported symptom of posttraumatic stress. Furthermore, interviews highlighted the vulnerability of people with pre-existing mental health concerns. Conclusions: The elevated psychological distress apparent within the Morwell community over two years after an extended pollution event highlights the need to improve post-incident recovery responses to such events, particularly for supporting residents that are more vulnerable.",
keywords = "bushfires, disaster, Hazelwood coalmine fire, Posttraumatic stress disorder, smoke exposure",
author = "Darryl Maybery and Rebecca Jones and Dipnall, {Joanna F.} and Emily Berger and Timothy Campbell and Alexander McFarlane and Matthew Carroll",
year = "2019",
doi = "10.1080/10615806.2019.1695523",
language = "English",
journal = "Anxiety, Stress and Coping",
issn = "1061-5806",
publisher = "Taylor & Francis",

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AU - Campbell, Timothy

AU - McFarlane, Alexander

AU - Carroll, Matthew

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AB - Background and Objectives: This study assessed the psychological impacts of six weeks of smoke exposure from the 2014 Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia, between two and three years after the incident. Design and Methods: A cross-sectional survey of adults investigated outcomes for the most exposed community, Morwell (n = 3091), compared with a similar, but minimally exposed community, Sale (n = 960). Adopting a mixed-methods research approach, 26 interviews with Morwell residents further examined qualities of the experience. Results: Morwell residents scored significantly higher on the Impact of Event Scale–Revised (difference = 6.53; 95%CI: 5.37, 7.35, p < 0.001) and Kessler 10-item general distress scale (difference = 1.69; 95%CI: 1.05, 2.33, p < 0.001). More than two years after the mine fire, Morwell residents reported moderate levels of distress related to the incident. This impact was also evident in interviews, where intrusive thoughts were the most frequently reported symptom of posttraumatic stress. Furthermore, interviews highlighted the vulnerability of people with pre-existing mental health concerns. Conclusions: The elevated psychological distress apparent within the Morwell community over two years after an extended pollution event highlights the need to improve post-incident recovery responses to such events, particularly for supporting residents that are more vulnerable.

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