July 13, 2009

How Katrina survivors see themselves

Hurricane Katrina survivors who stayed behind in New Orleans see themselves differently than first responders and doctors, U.S. psychologists found.

The Stanford University researchers found observers -- including a large group of relief workers, firefighters and physicians -- perceived those who evacuated their homes as more self-reliant and hardworking. However, these observers saw those who stayed as careless, passive, depressed and hopeless even though the observers were well aware that the residents staying behind lacked the resources -- such as money, transportation, out-of-town relatives -- to leave.

The researchers said their survey of actual Katrina survivors found those who had stayed behind did not feel powerless or passive.

On the contrary, they saw themselves as connected with their neighbors, more communitarian than independent from others, the researchers said in a statement. Their stories emphasized their faith in God and their feelings of caring for others.

When the psychologists also took detailed measures of all the survivors' well-being -- their mood, life satisfaction, mental health, drug and alcohol use, there were no significant differences between those who stayed in New Orleans and those who left. It seems that their different choices did not reflect differences in well-being, the researchers said.

The findings were published in Psychological Science.