Environmental Management

, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 543–551 | Cite as

Environmental hazards and psychopathology: Linking natural disasters with mental health

  • Ronald W. Perry


For some years, social scientists have been unable to agree on the extent to which experiencing a natural disaster is related to the presence of psychopathological symptoms Indeed, social scientists appear to be well-polarized, some arguing that disasters cause severe negative psychological reactions in victims, with others claiming that any psychological effects, if they exist at all, are minor and transient This paper reviews the controversy and identifies numerous conceptual and methodological difficulties associated with the competing positions. It is argued that the preoccupation of researchers with documenting positive or negative instances of psychological effects has lead them to ignore the issue of identifying processes through which disasters might impinge upon an individual's emotional stability. As a first step toward sketching out these processes, an extensive review of the literature on human response to natural disasters is undertaken. Eleven variables—level of community preparedness, scope of impact, duration of impact, destruction of kin and friendship networks, property damage, pre-impact psychological stability, social support, grief reactions, availability of institutional help, and successful coping skills—are identified as important in determining the psychological impact of disasters. These variables are operationalized and arranged into an interpretative framework that postulates the nature and magnitude of the interrelationships among them based upon the existing research literature

Key words

Mental health Natural disasters Psychological stress Environmental hazards Psychopathology 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald W. Perry
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Public AffairsArizona State UniversityTempe

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