Methods: This study collected survey data from 182 student volunteers across three public universities on the Gulf Coast. The data were collected in two waves: three months post Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (H-KR) for the first wave and six months post H-KR for the second wave of data. The data included information about gender, symptoms of mental illness (depression and PTSD), as well as other variables such as emotional responses, previous trauma, spiritual support, optimism, and altruism. Regression modeling was conducted for each depression and PTSD scores each separately as dependent variables. Multicollinearity was assessed. During multivariate regression modeling, multiple demographic, emotion and stress, resiliency and support variables were entered into the modeling followed by interaction terms involving participant race.
Results: A majority of the volunteerswas white (n=105, 57.7%) with a mean age of 30.47 years (SD=9.45). A vast majority of volunteers were female (n=181, 91.0%). PTSD scores were positively correlated with negative emotion (r=.403, p<.001), reminding trauma (r=.230,p=.002), and ineffectual/problematic response to Hurricane Katrina (r=.284,p<.001). Depression was significantly and negatively correlated with respondent age (r=-.163, p=.024) and optimism scores (r=, -.267 p<.001), albeit weakly. African-American respondents (M=17.74, SD=11.10) reported significantly more depression scores (t=3.07, p=.003, d=0.47) than white respondents (M=12.58, SD=10.81). PTSD scores did not significantly differ by race (t=.952, p=.343) or gender (t=.660,p=.510) of the respondents. Depression scores did not significantly differ by gender (t=1.060, p=.290).The final model predicting depression included six main effects and one interaction term (F[7, 137]=8.642, p<.001, r2=.306, adj. r2=.271) and explained 30.6% of the variance in this outcome. Controlling for other predictors, the race by negative emotion interaction term (β=-1.372, t=3.232, p=.002) indicated the relationship between negative emotion and depression was significantly greater for African-American individuals when compared to white respondents. The final model predicting PTSD scores) included positive emotion, negative emotion, reminding trauma, and ineffectual/problematic response to Hurricane Katrina scores as significant predictors (F[4, 146]=14.772, p<.001 , r2=.288, adj. r2=.269). Together, the model explained 28.8% of the variance in reported PTSD scores. No significant interaction terms were identified.
Conclusions and Implications: The mental health needs of student volunteers exposed to the disasters demonstrated a range of risk factors, including race/ethnicity, age, and previous trauma exposure. These results highlight the need for student volunteers to receive both pre and post disaster education, information, assessment, and close supervision to address issues around mental health vulnerability and resilience.