Wayne Parry / AP

Distress lingers among Hurricane Sandy survivors in New Jersey

Twenty percent of Sandy victims in New Jersey still suffer from severe psychological distress, poll suggests

Nearly two years after Hurricane Sandy struck the U.S. East Coast, 20 percent of surveyed New Jersey residents continue to suffer from severe psychological distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a Monmouth University Poll released Monday.

“That’s down slightly from the 26 percent one year ago, but considering that we’re now two years out from the storm...that’s a big number,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told reporters.

Researchers tracked nearly 1,000 New Jersey residents who suffered significant property damage or were displaced from their homes for a month or longer. Of that group, more than 600 were re-interviewed in recent months.

"The survey finds that little has changed in these survivors’ mental health picture over the past year," the report said. "Sandy survivors continue to exhibit signs of emotional stress at much higher rates than the population as a whole."

Overall, 18 percent of those surveyed saw improvement in their mental health in the past year. However, slightly more than that – 21 percent – got worse. Additionally, half of those surveyed saw no improvement.

Additionally, 22 percent of those surveyed continued to display signs of PTSD, including 31 percent who are still displaced and 18 percent who are back in their homes.

Women were more likely than men, at 26 percent and 17 percent, respectively, to show signs of PTSD. Those with children showed the highest rates of the disorder.

Those who showed significant improvement were able to return to their homes over the past year, the report said.

“Getting people back into their homes is not a panacea for healing all the mental health concerns of Sandy survivors. However, it is the biggest single positive factor we see in these results,” said Murray.

The report notes that access to mental health care is proving difficult for some in New Jersey, in part because many do not recognize that they need support. Only half of those with signs of serious distress believe they need mental health services, while one in three impacted residents said they would refuse assistance regardless of accessibility.

Among those surveyed with a demonstrated PTSD risk, 44 percent who received information on available counseling services eventually sought therapy compared to just 14 percent of those who did not receive this type of information, the report said.

Only 49 percent of those surveyed reported having received any information about counseling services.

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