Researchers Explore Joplin Residents’ Coping Strategies

By Denise Johnson | May 23, 2012

The May 22 tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., killed 161 people, and it also affected thousands of others physically and mentally, according to Drury University researchers. The Springfield, Mo., school is analyzing how survivors dealt with the physical, mental and emotional stress in the aftermath of the tornado.

The Joplin Project, led by psychology professor Jennifer Silva Brown, and her students, interviewed and submitted surveys to 80 Joplin tornado victims last fall.

credit: Drury University

The researchers hope the questionnaire will help them determine if the victims were suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other stress-related maladies.

“We’re trying to distinguish those who are struggling from those who are resilient and healthy,” Brown said. “We also look at how survivors coped with the tornado, by asking if they turned to such things as exercise, prayer, interaction with friends or family, and use of drugs and/or alcohol. The ultimate goal is to understand which characteristics promote a healthy adjustment to post-disaster life.”

Brown’s students are just beginning to draw conclusions from the resulting statistics.

“Those individuals that report the greatest satisfaction with their social support actually report the lowest levels of psychological distress. So they report the lowest levels of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic distress. Those individuals also report the greatest resilience over time,” Professor Brown said. “We can actually say social support is instrumental in fostering psychological help following a disaster.”

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