I’m in New Orleans for the Society of Social Neuroscience meeting and during this time a final call has gone out for participants in the largest study of its kind.
Its been over two years since the Deepwater Horizon Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and due to health issues of Gulf Coast residents, a $25 million, 10-year study, The Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up (GuLF) to assess the potential short and long-term health effects of the oil spill, is under way. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are conducting the project, which began March 2011. There are currently 29,000 participants enrolled that reside in the four Gulf States most affected: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Dr. Dale Sandler, the Principal Investigator of the study, has said that she hopes to sign up 55,000 participants before the enrollment period ends on December 31st. Dr. Sandler, chief of the Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Intramural Research at NIEHS, head of Chronic Disease Epidemiology Group and Editor of the Journal Epidemiology, has also headed other large scale studies examining environmental health risk. The primary subjects are rig workers, clean-up workers, support personnel and volunteers who carried out various operations exposing them to oil and dispersant chemicals in ways unique to this disaster.
What may be of specific interest to Psychology Today readers is that the study will not just look at long-term physical health effects, but also investigate how the disaster and aftermath has contributed to mental health problems. By asking for each participant’s experience story, data on stress, anxiety, and depression, will be gathered.
Study researchers have designed the project as a control study. Other people in the region without the same level of environmental exposure will be studied for comparison.
Just as the findings will prospectively inform safety protocol for preventable physical risk in similar disasters, the mental health data could be central to learning susceptibility and scope risks for mental health suffering and behavioral disorders related to large-scale environmental disaster.
But that’s just the beginning. If well-documented data, rich in conversation descriptions, comes from this study, there should be enough data for extensive analysis in many different mental health areas. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being just one.
To learn more about the study visit: www.gulfstudy.nih.gov or call 1-855-644-4853