Psychologist Warns BP Oil Spill Will Have Long-Lasting Impact

A prominent social psychologist says feelings of anger, depression, and helplessness are already apparent in many people whose lives were impacted by the BP oil spill. What’s more, Deborah Du Nann Winter, PhD, told the peer-reviewed online journal Ecopsychology that those and other psychological impacts of the spill are expected to be long lasting.

According to the Ecopsychology article, Winter was a professor of psychology at Whitman College and has written extensively on the psychological dimensions of environmental damage, war, sense of place, and mindfulness. She recently co-authored the third edition of The Psychology of Environmental Problems.

While Winter predicted that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will surface in the wake of the spill, she also said that because the disaster has played out over several months, a bigger problem will be long-range, chronic widespread depression, which will build among the people impacted as the disaster progresses.

In her interview, Winter predicted a great deal of chronic depression, withdrawal, and lack of functioning among not only people directly affected by the events in the Gulf, but also people nationwide and globally who identify or empathize with their circumstances. In a press release detailing the Ecopsychology interview, Winter characterized the anger being expressed over the BP oil spill as s “a way of masking the really unfathomable and profound despair that is just under the surface as we watch this catastrophe unfold.”

Winter’s concerns have been echoed by some recent studies. Earlier this month, for example, a survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, in corroboration with the Children’s Health Fund and The Marist Poll of Poughkeepsie, NY, found evidence that the BP oil spill was having significant and potentially lasting impacts on the health, mental health, and economic fortunes of Gulf Coast residents and their children and on the way they live their everyday lives. The survey also found a dramatic relationship between economic vulnerability and health effects. Adults with household incomes under $25,000 were by far the most likely to report physical and mental health effects for themselves and also among their children.

The researchers who conducted that survey called on BP to provide funds to state and local agencies involved with providing assessment and care to affected families.

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