Stress still felt months after flood

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
June 3, 2009

Wabash Valley flood victims who have not restored their property damaged in June 2008 still feel the highest levels of stress, according to a survey conducted by Indiana State University.

Virgil Sheets, ISU psychology department chair, had undergraduate students in a research methods class use the Survey Research Laboratory to conduct the telephone survey in April. Students surveyed almost 400 people in Riley, North Terre Haute, West Terre Haute and the Allendale/Honey Creek areas that were affected by the flood on June 7. Of the 388 people who responded to questions 89 percent were homeowners and 98 percent lived in the Wabash Valley at the time of the flood.

Of those surveyed the largest number, 48.5 percent, said friends, neighbors or family experienced flood damage. Additionally, 17.8 percent said they experienced flood damage but had restored their property. A further 7 percent said they experienced flood damage but had not fully restored their property. Of the 96 people who reported flood damage to their property, 29 percent said the main living area or the entire property was destroyed. Of those, two-thirds had restored their damaged properties.

Research shows that usually six months after a catastrophic event people's stress levels decrease and by a year all but those with most significant losses have recovered, Sheets said. Those surveyed exhibited stress indicators such as sleepless nights, being more argumentative or feeling sad with those who had not repaired their property showing the most stress.

Those responding to the survey said during the past month they had difficulty sleeping (50.8 percent), got easily annoyed (45.9 percent), argued with someone close to them (38.1 percent), felt down or blue (37.6 percent), had difficulty concentrating (31.2 percent), felt like they didn't want to be around anyone (27.6 percent) and had unexplained fear (13.1) percent.

Survey respondents who had damage but restored their property exhibited 2.64 of the stress indicators while those who had damage but did not restore it showed 3.21 of the stress indicators.

The survey found that people still had lingering stress from the flood, but that more recent events like the economy are having a greater impact upon their stress levels, according to Sheets.

Those in the survey said they were affected by the death of a loved one (27.8 percent), had lost a job (8.8 percent), had medical problems (6.2 percent) and had financial strain (4.4 percent).

"People who haven't restored their property yet report 60 percent more symptoms than people who were not living here," Sheets said.

Additionally, Sheets said, 50.8 percent of the sample reported trouble sleeping during the month of the survey, but for those with property damage that increased to 57.3 percent while those with damage that had not restored the property was at 70.4 percent.

"The conclusion is there is evidence of lingering stress tied to the degree of one's own experience but recent events, especially the economy, are having a greater impact on people," Sheets said.

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Contact: Virgil Sheets, Indiana State University, chair of the psychology department, at 812-237-2451 or vsheets1@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/553867385_bHjcJ-L.jpg

Cutline: Virgil Sheets, chair of Indiana State University's psychology department, discusses results of a survey about lingering stress from the 2008 flood. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell