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.
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