Effects of Stress Related to the Gulf Oil Spill on Child and Adolescent Mental Health

J Pediatr Psychol. Jan-Feb 2016;41(1):65-72. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsu085. Epub 2014 Oct 10.


Objective: To examine the interactive effects of stress related to the Gulf oil spill on mental health of children and adolescents on the Gulf Coast who were also affected by previous hurricanes.

Methods: A prospective design, with n = 1,577 youth (aged 3-18 years), evaluated pre-oil spill and again post-oil spill for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, previous hurricane exposure, and amount of oil spill stress.

Results: Stressors related to the spill were common and were associated with PTSD symptoms. Moreover, there was an interactive effect such that those with high preexisting PTSD symptoms, high previous hurricane exposure, and high oil spill stress had the most elevated post-oil spill PTSD symptoms.

Conclusions: This study provides initial evidence linking stress related to the Gulf oil spill to youth mental health symptoms. The effects of the oil spill on youth mental health were most evident among those with cumulative risk.

Keywords: at-risk youth; posttraumatic stress; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health*
  • Child
  • Child Health*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cyclonic Storms
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Petroleum Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology*