The new StudyPublished in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin informs that the aftermath of a mass trauma or natural disaster could benefit an individual’s mental health because of ‘psychosocial gains from adversity.’ The study suggests that these benefits could be a direct result of a spike in perceived social support and social resources.
Anthony Mancini, Pace University’s New York psychologist and lead author, cites as an illustration the Virginia Tech campus shootings.
Virginia Tech’s study of participants with anxiety or depression before the shootings revealed that almost half of the participants showed significant improvements in their mental states in the aftermath.
After realizing that this wasn’t an uncommon phenomenon and formulating the ‘psychosocial gain from adversity’ theory, Mancini got the rare opportunity to test it out in real time: using the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Mancini and his coworkers were conducting an adaptation study to college. They had the unique opportunity to assess the student body both before and after Hurricane Irma. Two semesters later, the team studied another group of students who had not been exposed to hurricanes.
“Both comparisons showed that the hurricane cohort was doing better,” explains Mancini. “When we compared their functioning before and after, the hurricane cohort experienced reduced distress, negative emotion, and attachment avoidance.”
Students also reported an increase of social support. Comparing to the hurricane cohort one year later had more social support, less attachment anxiety and less attachment avoidance. The hurricane cohort was therefore more socially supported, less attachment anxiety and less attachment avoidance than the one year later. Actually, the hurricane made people better off.
Mancini says that after disaster exposure, our instinct to join with others is evolutionary. This attachment system helps us to cope with adversity.
“Because social behavior and relationships are critical to mental health, stress can then have surprising benefits on our level of distress, our concerns about our relationships, and the level of responsiveness we experience from others,” he explains.
Mancini offers the following advice for anyone who has recently been through a natural disaster or dealt with similar stressors in their lives:
“Obey the instinct to affiliate with others after stressful experiences,” he explains. “They will likely be receptive and you may find that you have forged a new relationship or strengthened an existing one, both of which will be to your benefit in the future.”
Mancini also mentions that stressors of acute nature can have adverse consequences. If you have to flee your home due to a natural disaster, the negative effects on your mental health are likely to outweigh any positive ones.
“The point of the paper was to suggest a potential sweet spot for disaster and to reorient our understanding of these events,” he clarifies.
Mancini believes, despite its limitations, that his research and psychosocial gains theory are valuable because of three fundamental reasons.
- This does not mean that one must be traumatized. The post-traumatic growth perspective, on the other hand, can only be beneficial to someone who has experienced serious trauma.
- It is a social behavior that occurs automatically, and not ruminative reconstruction.
- It’s instantaneous, and it doesn’t take a long time.
You can find a full interview with Anthony Mancini, a psychologist, discussing his research here. A fatal accident could lead to your life being saved