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Investigating the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by erabadie

Change AgentsChange Agents for Mississippi—In April 2010, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spread almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, creating an environmental disaster of a magnitude never before seen. Three hundred miles from the coast, researchers at the University of Mississippi stood ready to offer their service and expertise. These are the stories of three UM researchers who led the way in studying the environmental and social repercussions of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.

Mental Health Impact

Stefan Schulenberg

Stefan Schulenberg

While marine scientists rushed to study the environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the state of Mississippi sought a way to study a more personal impact: the mental health impact on Gulf Coast residents who lost jobs, faced unexpected financial crises and experienced turmoil in the wake of the disaster. The state found that leadership in University of Mississippi researcher Stefan Schulenberg, associate professor of psychology.

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health appointed Schulenberg to assess its Mental Health Oil Spill Recovery-Behavioral Health Grant Program, a $12 million fund provided by British Petroleum. A portion of the funding supported Schulenberg and a large team, composed of UM graduate students and two additional members of the psychology department faculty, over two years as they collected and analyzed data about mental health impacts of the disaster.

Schulenberg’s graduate students were divided into two teams. The first, a data team, collated information collected by the 19 mental health facilities participating in the program. The second, a site liaison team, visited the facilities regularly to support the data collection process. The goals of the team were to assess the amount of mental health services, training and outreach provided by the agencies funded by the grant program, and to assess the spill’s mental health effects.

Schulenberg and the team are advocating for coastal residents of Mississippi who would benefit from additional mental health services related to the spill, and they are also contributing to the science in this area, working to inform future research and intervention efforts.

“For assessing the impact of the spill, we developed a questionnaire that asked people how they were affected, and we included a number of reliable and valid research measures,” Schulenberg said. “We looked at depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, and we also looked at variables on the positive side like self-efficacy, perceived meaning and life satisfaction. Traditionally, clinical psychology has been about what is wrong with people, but the field continues to evolve such that we’re also very interested in what is right and healthy in people, resilience being a good example. In order to understand the effects disasters have on mental health, it’s important to focus not just on risk factors but also on protective factors.”

Read about the other researchers.

VIDEO: Bethany Aiena, doctoral student

Posted on: November 4th, 2013 by erabadie

Years from now when I look back at Ole Miss and what it means to me … anything I’ve learned as a clinician, anything I’ve learned as a researcher, I’ve learned from Ole Miss.Bethany Aienaclinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Mississippi

Bethany Aiena

Bethany Aiena

Mental Health Impact of Gulf Oil Spill
The University of Mississippi Clinical Disaster Research Center plays a vital role in studying and addressing mental health issues related to natural disasters.

The negative and long-lasting effects following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being used to research ways to offer support for others who experience the effects of environmental disasters. After the oil spill, University of Mississippi faculty and students initiated research to understand the mental health impacts along the coast. The team was surprised to find large differences in the way many people cope with disasters and published some of that research nationally. The research is part of work being conducted by the Clinical Disaster Research Center at UM and plays a vital role with respect to disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts, focusing on mental health.

Bethany Aiena explains how her involvement in research as a student helped her achieve success in her field.

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Mental Health Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery

Posted on: October 22nd, 2013 by erabadie
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After the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast

UM’s new Clinical Disaster Research Center in the Department of Psychology plays a vital role in mental health disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

“Disaster mental health is a relatively new field of psychological science and practice as it relates to disaster preparedness, impact and recovery,” said Stefan Schulenberg, associate professor of psychology and Center director, whose16 years of training and experience include Hurricane Katrina, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and tornadoes of 2011.

Even before the Center’s establishment in autumn 2012, a team of undergraduate and graduate students served with Schulenberg helping after natural disasters, conducting research to understand the effects of the oil spill on Mississippi coastal residents and working to enhance intervention and outreach efforts for a range of concerns. “Throughout the Gulf oil spill research it seemed apparent that the next logical step was to establish an identity, an integrated purpose bringing together research, teaching and service efforts” he said. “With the Center, we hope to continue our work raising awareness of an important area that people don’t often think about.”

“While physical threat is emergency responders’ first concern, the effects of trauma on mental health are frequently unrecognized or untreated. “People have a tremendous resilience to overcome adversity,” he said. “However, individual response to a disaster can vary widely. Some may experience problems that are short term, while others may experience problems that are longer lasting. Still others may experience what is called post-traumatic growth, learning how to respond to their experiences in adaptive ways.”

This spring Schulenberg taught Disasters and Mental Health, an undergraduate course and plans to develop a graduate seminar while continuing to build the Center with a focus on training and education.

Tornado Season Busy for Clinical Disaster Research Center

Posted on: October 10th, 2013 by erabadie
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Dr. Schulenberg

Whether it’s dealing with recovery after a natural disaster, conducting research to better understand the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill on Mississippi coastal residents seeking mental health services or working to enhance intervention and outreach efforts for a range of mental health concerns – both locally and nationally, the Clinical Disaster Research Center at the University of Mississippi plays a vital role with respect to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts, focusing on mental health.

Stefan Schulenberg, UM associate professor of psychology and center director, leads a team of graduate and undergraduate students in research, training/teaching and service efforts. Schulenberg is licensed as a psychologist in Mississippi, a supervising psychologist in the university’s Psychological Services Center, a member of the state of Mississippi’s Disaster Response Network and a mental health volunteer and supervisor with the American Red Cross.

“I served as a consultant relating to Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill and also the tornados of April 2011,” Schulenberg said. “Our research team has sponsored the Out of the Darkness walks the previous three years with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. These efforts are to help raise awareness and funding for suicide awareness intervention and prevention efforts, nationally and locally.”

Other projects include:

  • studying student, faculty and staff attitudes on campus regarding disaster preparedness to help enhance University educational and training efforts;
  • disaster response and recovery efforts on campus and in the community, working collaboratively with the University as well as disaster relief organizations;
  • training others with respect to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts with a focus on stress management and mental health;
  • studying the impact of natural and man-made disasters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Oil Spill Reverberations

Posted on: May 1st, 2013 by woodward
Gulf Oil Spill

Gulf Oil Spill

Years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf Coast, the effects of the disaster still linger. The accident on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the next three months. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The environmental devastation grabbed most of the headlines, but the human impact was just as significant. Millions of Gulf Coast residents were affected by the disaster. Rig workers found themselves unemployed, and the fishing and tourism industries — both major contributors to the Gulf Coast economy — suffered huge hits. As of December 2011, BP had paid more than $21 billion in cleanup costs and economic damages. Yet a report by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the spill could cost the coastal region $22.7 billion over three years in lost tourism alone.

“Yes, it’s an environmental disaster, but it really affects people’s lives financially,” says Scott Sumrall, director of disaster preparedness and response with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

Along with that financial devastation came depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the mental health effects, BP provided $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Oil Spill Recovery–Behavioral Health Grant Program for outreach, training and clinical services. Most of the grants went directly to mental health centers and other groups that provide direct care to people on the coast. But $285,000 of that funding, over a two-year period, also went to Stefan Schulenberg, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, and a team of graduate students who have been charged with assessing how well the program is meeting the mental health needs of people on the Mississippi coast.

The team is still in the process of collecting and analyzing data and evaluating the program’s effectiveness. But it’s not too soon to say that the program has been a terrific educational opportunity for the graduate students involved. “I’ve learned a lot about working with a team, how to collaborate with others,” says Bethany Aiena, a psychology graduate student at the University of Mississippi. For her, the mission hits close to home. “I’m from Texas and I lived near the coast. We’ve been hit by our fair share of hurricanes and natural disasters,” she says. “Being personally affected, I can see how the people of Mississippi can benefit from people like us sorting through and finding empirically valid techniques to better serve them.”
A Diversity of Programs

The mission of Schulenberg and his students is twofold. They are collecting data about the psychological impact of the oil spill, estimating how much the disaster has affected factors such as depression, stress, anxiety, PTSD and life satisfaction. They’re also assessing the grant program itself, gathering information about the therapy, training and outreach activities mental health organizations have provided with the BP grants.

Members of the University of Mississippi Clinical-Disaster Research Collaborative include (from left) Bethany J. Aiena, Christopher F. Drescher, Brandy J. Baczwaski, Lauren B. Flegle, Stevie W. Campbell, Dr. Stefan E. Schulenberg, A. Brooke Walters, Laura E. McIntire and Kristie V. SchultzThe grants were distributed to a variety of facilities and programs. The funding allowed some established mental health facilities to expand existing clinical programs, such as one-on-one psychotherapy. Other programs were launched specifically to help people deal with the aftermath of the accident, offering art-based therapy for children, resilience training for affected families and outreach programs targeting minority groups that are traditionally reluctant to seek out services.

“There’s quite a diversity of programs being offered,” Schulenberg adds. “The challenge is that each site is doing something different. Our task was to develop a method of collecting data that was general enough that it could be applicable across all 19 sites but specific enough that it could still yield useful information.”

Schulenberg has a large team to help him sift through all that data. Last year 10 graduate students were funded by the project, and this year eight students are onboard. They are a key part of the effort, Schulenberg says. Some students, such as Aiena, work on the data team, helping to enter data collected by the sites receiving funding. Others act as site liaisons, staying in regular contact with grant recipients to help answer questions about data collection procedures and make sure the sites have questionnaires and any other materials they need to collect the necessary information from patients and practitioners.

“In real-world settings, it’s challenging to collect good data and do so in a manner that doesn’t disrupt day-to-day operations at different sites,” Schulenberg says. “Both student teams are invaluable in terms of helping to make the process a smooth one.”

Brooke Walters, a PhD candidate at the University of Mississippi, is overseeing six site liaisons. She says the opportunity has been excellent for gaining supervisory experience, which she hopes to put to use in a career of hospital administration. The project has also taught her about the complexities of managing projects on such a large scale, juggling issues such as securing grant money, satisfying funding requirements and ensuring that patients continue to receive adequate care as needed. “I’ve learned that mental health goes a lot deeper than just trying to help [individual] people,” she says.
The Need Remains

The grant program runs through June 2012, so Schulenberg and his team are still collecting and analyzing data. But based on preliminary findings, it seems clear that the oil spill harmed the community’s mental health. As of last September, approximately 53 percent of adults who sought mental health services through the program reported severe or extremely severe stress. A worrisome 54 percent reported severe or extremely severe depression and 54 percent reported severe or extremely severe anxiety. In addition, approximately 40 percent met the clinical criteria for PTSD.

It’s too soon to pinpoint exactly what effect the program has had, but data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest mental health has improved in the Mississippi coast region in the months immediately following the disaster. A CDC survey conducted in October found that 15 percent of respondents in the general population reported symptoms of depression, compared with nearly 25 percent the year before. It’s a positive sign, but the region is still showing elevated distress compared with the general U.S. population, where about 9.5 percent of CDC survey respondents report symptoms of depression.

“What is very clear is that Mississippi residents continue to need mental health services,” Schulenberg says. “We feel this collaboration with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health has been very informative, and I think it’s a good model for other states to follow in similar situations.”

Even as the grant winds down, Schulenberg hopes to establish a center for clinical disaster research at the University of Mississippi that will focus on research, teaching, training and service. “It would give students the opportunity to continue to do research and analysis with real-world data,” he says. “It’s about getting students trained to go out into the community and really have a positive impact.”

In the meantime, students like Aiena are gaining a lot from the oil-spill project. “This project made me much more aware of the role that psychology plays in people’s everyday lives,” she says.
Kirsten Weir is a writer in Minneapolis.

UM-CDRC Co-Sponsors Suicide Prevention Walk

Posted on: April 28th, 2013 by woodward

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In conjunction with the University of Mississippi Psychological Services Center, Department of Psychology, and Psychology Honors Society (Psi Chi), the UM-CDRC sponsored the second annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Community Walk in the Oxford/University/Lafayette community. Read more about it in two articles from The Daily Mississippian.

New Clinical-Disaster Research Center

Posted on: April 28th, 2013 by woodward
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The UM-CDRC Team

The University of Mississippi’s Clinical-Disaster Research Center in the Department of Psychology is not just about educating students, it’s making a big impact on the community with a small budget.

The new center has a budget of $29,663, which was approved in October 2012 by the state College Board. These few dollars will help the center build on the work already done by researchers in the state to assist those who have survived a disaster.

“Disaster mental health is a relatively new field of psychological science and practice as it relates to disaster preparedness, impact and recovery,” said Dr. Stefan Schulenberg, director of the center.

Schulenberg has 16 years of training and experience working within the disaster mental health field. He moved to Mississippi in 2002, and when Hurricane Katrina hit three years later, Schulenberg was part of a multidisciplinary group that collected data on the coast on how people were handling the trauma. Schulenberg’s team was again part of mental health efforts on the coast after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

BP gave $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health in response to the oil spill. The state developed a grant program, distributing the funds to 19 mental health facilities providing therapy, training and outreach to Mississippi coastal residents affected by the technological disaster.

Schulenberg consulted with the state Department of Mental Health, leading a team of graduate students and faculty to collect data to determine the amount of services being provided, how many people received services, and how people were responding to the disaster.

Still working
While the 2-year contract expired in June, the team continues to analyze the data and disseminate the findings so that the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill on the mental health of Mississippi coastal residents may be better understood.

The importance of their work during the spill brought to light the need to incorporate more of the team’s work into the classroom.

“Throughout the Gulf Oil Spill research it seemed apparent that the next logical step was to establish an identity, an integrated purpose bringing together research, teaching and service efforts” Schulenberg said. “With the center, we hope to continue our work raising awareness of an important area that many people don’t often think about.”

This spring, Schulenberg will teach an undergraduate course, Disasters and Mental Health, that emphasizes this need. He plans to develop a graduate seminar of the same course in the future and to continue to build the center with a focus on training and education.

“The graduate students in our clinical training program are getting that training already but this means having something more formal in place,” Schulenberg said.

While physical threat is often the first emergency responders’ concern, the effects of trauma on mental health often go unrecognized or untreated, Schulenberg said.

“People have a tremendous resilience to overcome adversity,” Schulenberg said. “However, individual response to a disaster can vary widely. Some people may experience problems that are short term, while others may experience problems that are longer lasting. Still others may experience what is called post-traumatic growth, learning how to respond to their experiences in adaptive ways.”

Several factors
With respect to the effects of a disaster, Schulenberg said that individual and community response to an event can be affected by many factors, such as previous history with disasters, socioeconomic status, and the nature and intensity of the disaster. Some problems that people may experience include anger, irritability, stress and anxiety, depression, disruptive eating and sleeping patterns, as well as problems with drug and alcohol use. Schulenberg also noted that, for those people who are experiencing such difficulties, there is help available, on campus and in the community.

The center will continue research and training in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Schulenberg also is a member of the Mississippi Disaster Response Network, and is Red Cross certified. He teaches courses for the American Red Cross program and also works with the organization for student activities and volunteer experiences.