Pre-hurricane perceived social support protects against psychological distress: a longitudinal analysis of low-income mothers

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010 Aug;78(4):551-560. doi: 10.1037/a0018317.


Objective: In this study, we examined the influence of pre-disaster perceived social support on post-disaster psychological distress among survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Method: Participants (N = 386) were low-income mothers between 18 and 34 years of age at baseline (M = 26.4, SD = 4.43). The majority (84.8%) was African American; 10.4% identified as Caucasian, 3.2% identified as Hispanic, and 1.8% identified as other. Participants were enrolled in an educational intervention study in 2004 and 2005. Those who had completed a 1-year follow-up assessment prior to Hurricane Katrina were reassessed approximately 1 year after the hurricane. Measures of perceived social support and psychological distress were included in pre- and post-disaster assessments. Using structural equation modeling and multiple mediator analysis, we tested a model wherein pre-disaster perceived social support predicted post-disaster psychological distress both directly and indirectly through its effects on pre-disaster psychological distress, exposure to hurricane-related stressors, and post-disaster perceived social support. We predicted that higher pre-disaster perceived social support would be predictive of lower pre-disaster psychological distress, lower hurricane-related stressors, and higher post-disaster perceived social support, and that these variables would, in turn, predict lower post-disaster psychologically distress.

Results: Our analyses provide partial support for the hypothesized model. Although pre-disaster perceived social support did not exert a direct effect on post-disaster psychological distress, the indirect effects of all 3 proposed mediators were significant.

Conclusions: Pre-disaster social support can decrease both exposure to natural disasters and the negative psychological effects of natural disaster exposure. These findings underscore the importance of bolstering the post-disaster social support networks of low-income mothers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Psychometrics
  • Social Support*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Young Adult