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The Role of Social Toxicity in Responses to a Slowly-Evolving Environmental Disaster: The Case of Amphibole Asbestos Exposure in Libby, Montana, USA

American Journal of Community Psychology

Abstract

Experiencing a disaster has significant negative effects on psychological adjustment. Case study accounts point to two consistent trends in slowly-evolving environmental disasters: (a) patterns of negative social dynamics, and (b) relatively worse psychological outcomes than in natural disasters. Researchers have begun to explicitly postulate that the social consequences of slowly-evolving environmental disasters (e.g., community conflict) have their own effects on victims’ psychological outcomes. This study tested a model of the relationship between those social consequences and psychological adjustment of victims of a slowly-evolving environmental disaster, specifically those whose health has been compromised by the amphibole asbestos disaster in Libby, MT. Results indicate that experiencing greater community conflict about the disaster was associated with greater family conflict about the disaster which, in turn, was associated with greater social constraints on talking with others about their disease, both directly and indirectly through experiencing stigmatization. Experiencing greater social constraints was associated with worse psychological adjustment, both directly and indirectly through failed social support. Findings have implications for understanding pathways by which social responses create negative effects on mental health in slowly-evolving environmental disasters. These pathways suggest points for prevention and response (e.g., social support, stigmatization of victims) for communities experiencing slowly-evolving environmental disasters.

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Cline, R.J.W., Orom, H., Chung, J.E. et al. The Role of Social Toxicity in Responses to a Slowly-Evolving Environmental Disaster: The Case of Amphibole Asbestos Exposure in Libby, Montana, USA. Am J Community Psychol 54, 12–27 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-014-9660-4

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