The association between dispositional optimism and mental health problems among disaster victims and a comparison group: a prospective study

J Affect Disord. 2007 Sep;102(1-3):35-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2006.12.004. Epub 2007 Jan 18.


Background: It is unclear whether the associations between the level of dispositional optimism on the one hand, and depression symptoms and other health problems on the other hand among disaster victims differ from the associations among non-affected residents.

Methods: To assess the associations between the level of dispositional optimism and health problems among disaster victims and non-affected residents, data of the longitudinal Enschede Fireworks Disaster Study was analyzed. Participants in the present study consisted of adult native Dutch victims of the disaster (N=662) and a non-affected comparison group (N=526). Both groups participated 18 months (T1) and almost four years post-disaster (T2). Multivariate logistic regression analyses were applied to examine the association between optimism and health problems among both groups.

Results: Results showed that pessimistic victims were more at risk for severe depression symptoms and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than optimistic victims when controlling for demographic characteristics, life events, smoking, and existing health problems at T1. However, pessimistic participants in the comparison group were also more at risk for severe anxiety symptoms, sleeping problems, somatic problems, and problems in social functioning than optimistic control participants.

Limitations: We had no information on dispositional optimism before 18 months post-disaster.

Conclusions: Pessimists at baseline are more at risk for health problems after 27 months than optimists. However, among non-affected residents pessimism is a stronger independent risk factor than among victims. Results suggest that professional helpers such as general practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists should not rely too much on optimistic views of disaster victims.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Character*
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology