Frequently Asked Questions

What were perceptions five years after the DWH oil spill?

A phone survey was conducted five years after the spill to gain and understanding of Gulf Coast residents' perceptions five years after the disaster

  • 28.7% indicated that they were personally affected by the DWH oil spill
  • 34.3% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their community's economy AFTER the DWH oil spill, while only 15.6% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their community's economy BEFORE the oil spill
  • 31.6% agreed or strongly agreed that community programs established following the DWH oil spill continue to provide benefits.
  • 72% indicated that they believe volunteer programs are moderately to very important following an environmental disaster.



How did the DWH oil spill impact individual and family resilience?

With the DWH disaster, high levels of mental health problems in communities were linked primarily with income instability.

  • We have seen improvement in mental health over time, but it is still higher than the national averages.
  • Community members who stated that they were resilient and able to recover from hardship had significantly better outcomes than those who did not.


How have social networks played a role in community resiliency?

Communities differ in their capacity for resilience: This is linked with underlying community characteristics, social capital, and intergroup ties/linkages.

  • For the participation in the claims process, we actually find significant negative effects on participation, such that, if the respondent “owned” their own business (such as their boat) it increased their likelihood of seeking compensation, while having a religious affiliation decreased their likelihood.
  • For some people, taking money had a negative social stigma – in this case, taking a handout – especially a handout from the party responsible for the spill.
  • For disaster preparedness and response this offers an interesting lesson – in very densely networked communities, using this type of distribution system is likely to engender conflict and dissatisfaction – as was the case with the claims program.



How has the DWH oil spill affected Gulf Coast seafood?

Project 3: Seafood Hydrocarbon Residues and Coastal Community Health, focuses on self-caught, inshore-harvested seafood that is important to coastal fishers and their families as part of their regular diet. This study looked at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are substances that occur in seafood as a result of ingestions and are tracked because they can cause cancer.

  • No current evidence of PAH contamination of Gulf Coast seafood as a result of the oil spill.
  • Most of the 700 samples studied are near or below levels of PAH that can be detected, which is far below levels of concern.
  • All samples analyzed were below levels of concern.
  • Seafood is as safe to eat now as it was before the spill


Based on the findings of this project, what would be the best management practices?

  • Take a community based participatory research (CBPR) approach to maintain a dialog with community members and allow them to provide insight for gaps and needs in affected communities.
  • Work to know and understand communities via focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and formative evaluations.
  • Develop mental health programs that focus on assisting those who might experience a loss of income.
  • Consider ensuring adequate mental health services a community priority for coastal communities along the gulf.



How can future disasters be prepared for?


  • Continue to work with communities on developing programs to overcome barriers and increase resiliency.
  • Utilize research results to address problems that continue to exist.
  • Researchers continue to work with the community advisory committee (CAC), a group comprised of representatives from all communities with whom we work, and community partners on development of future research.
    • Partners are interested in the development of a formalized regional resilience network.



What resources have been available to communities in times of disaster and every day?

To maximize disaster assistance, assistance programs should take into account the social and cultural contexts in which support is sought and received.

What work can be done at the community level to be better prepared for future disasters?

  • Toolkits
  • Trainings/workshops
  • Speakers’ bureau with researchers

Do participants get study results and how will results be returned to participants? (This may require four separate answers as this may vary study to study as defined in the IRB consent form for each site)

Yes. Participants will receive study results. These results will come from the researchers who interviewed or surveyed them, or who collected samples in their community. For example, those who participated in the University of Florida “Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities” study will receive information from the UF team of researchers and those who participated in the LSU, UTMB or Tulane studies will likewise receive information from those study teams.

Why is it important to participate in DWH studies?

It is important to participate as this will help with future recovery efforts and will also help to prepare better for future disasters. The long term goal of the research is to improve your lives, as Gulf coastal residents, and to find ways to prevent negative impacts on your mental and physical health before, during and after a disaster.

Why are there so many different studies being conducted in the Gulf?

Because the communities involved had different questions they wanted answered. The studies will answer these different questions about the oil spill such as - did it affect the seafood, did it affect our health or our children’s health, and did it affect the Gulf ecosystem? Each study will come up with some of the answers, but the combined results of the many studies together will give us a much better picture of the total impact of the oil spill.

What is community-based participatory research?

Community members benefit by being and active partner throughout the study by providing researchers with community insight. The important role of community members is to guide how the research is being done to make sure the studies have the best chance of meeting a community's needs.

Did the oil spill affect the mental health of the Gulf coastal residents?

Soon after the spill, some residents who lost their income, or who experienced damage to property or some other form of disruption to their daily life expressed anger, frustration, upset, and sadness. We do not yet know if there have been any long-term mental health effects to Gulf coastal residents. The WaTCH study and several other studies hope to answer this question.

How does one recognize the signs of poor mental health?

Recognizing changes in how someone thinks, reacts and behaves may be a sign of mental health problems. Since there is a wide range of normal behavior, seeing a change in a person compared to their usual behavior might be a sign of a problem. It can be harder to tell what is normal for someone you do not know.

How do mental health providers diagnose mental health conditions?

There is no medical test to diagnose mental health conditions.  Mental health providers have training that helps them to determine if there is a mental health condition by asking questions and evaluating the answers.  Sometimes they talk with family members to learn about changes in your mood or behavior and how other people perceive your actions.

Do the definitions of mental health conditions change?

Yes. Research findings can change the way mental health providers think about mental health conditions.  These changes include adding new conditions or changing the signs or symptoms of existing conditions.

When is an evaluation or treatment needed for a mental health condition?

Each mental health condition has its own set of signs and symptoms. In general, however, professional help is recommended if you or a loved one experiences:

  • Marked change in personality, eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Inability to cope with problems or daily activities
  • Strange or grandiose ideas
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged depression or  apathy
  • Thinking or talking about  suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Extreme mood swings or  excessive anger, hostility or violent behavior

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

What are good strategies to deal with mental health conditions?

Many people who have mental health conditions consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of life or avoid treatment out of shame or fear. If you're concerned about your mental health or the mental health of family members and friends, don't hesitate to seek advice. Consult your family doctor, make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist, or encourage your loved one to seek help. With appropriate support, you can identify mental health conditions and explore treatment options, such as medications or counseling. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

If you are living in Louisiana, by calling to the number 211 you can access resources to help with medical and mental health services. This number also can help with public assistance, job and disaster assistance. If you need assistance and live in Louisiana do not hesitate in calling 211 the staff will do everything possible to assist you.