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Poll: Sandy victims still suffering serious distress

Nearly two years after first making landfall, Superstorm Sandy victims continue to suffer from psychological stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new Monmouth University Poll released Monday. 

Sandy victims
Sandy Huffaker, Getty Images

“Right now we have 20 percent or one in five who have serious distress,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “That’s down slightly from the 26 percent one year ago, but considering that we’re now two years out from the storm and we still have one in five residents experiencing significant psychological stress, that’s a big number.”

A year after the storm, Monmouth University surveyed over 800 of the most impacted New Jersey residents to gauge their mental health status.  For this poll, 616 of those people were re-interviewed.

Of those surveyed, 47 percent still report symptoms of at least moderate distress, which is only slightly lower than the 50 percent registered last year.

“Overall, 18 percent of those Sandy victims have improved their mental health over the past year, but 21 percent have gotten worse and 50 percent have pretty much stayed the same,” Murray said.

The only group that showed significant improvement are those who were able to move back into their homes since they were first interviewed roughly one year ago.

“Fifty percent of them are doing better in terms of psychological stress, but getting people back in to their homes is not the end-all be-all for healing all the mental health concerns of Sandy survivors,” Murray said.

Twenty-two percent of the Sandy survivors exhibit signs of PTSD, which includes 31 percent who are still displaced and 18 percent who are back in their homes. Those who say they will never move back to their pre-Sandy home are more likely to exhibit provisional PTSD.

Women (26 percent) are more likely than men (17 percent) to show signs of PTSD. Parents of children under 18 have among the highest rates of PTSD among this group of Sandy survivors.

“It was not surprising that parents of children reported the highest rates of PTSD. Caring for children, worrying about their well-being and feeling helpless to improve the family’s situation is understandably stressful and tests parents’ resiliency,” said Dr. Christine Hatchard, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Clinical Psychology Research Center at Monmouth University, in an emailed press release on Oct. 27. “When parents are stressed, children are stressed. With children, sleep disturbance is often the red flag that signals that the child may be experiencing PTSD or other mental distress.”

Only half of those who exhibit either PTSD or serious distress feel they need mental health services. Almost half of those impacted by Sandy said they received information about available counseling services, but under one in five report having actually received some type of counseling or therapy.  One in three impacted residents said they would refuse emotional support assistance regardless of accessibility.

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