• disaster;
  • family role;
  • PTSD;
  • social support


This study hypothesized that family role (marital and parental status) would moderate the effect of disaster exposure on the mental health of victims. The study included St. Louis residents exposed to floods and dioxin, as well as Puerto Rican respondents exposed to floods and mudslides. In St. Louis, worst outcomes were found for single and married parents exposed to disaster, substantially exceeding the symptomatology of all unexposed respondents except non-victim single parents. In Puerto Rico, victims without families had higher levels of alcohol abuse symptoms than did any other subgroup. Perceived emotional support was found to be an important moderator of disaster's effect on psychiatric distress in this site, generally overriding the effect of family role. Single parents in both sites who were exposed to disaster had substantially reduced levels of emotional support available to them, as compared to unexposed single parents, suggesting that single parents are at particularly high risk for losing access to emotional support following a disaster. This study suggests that both single and married parents constitute important high-risk victim groups. The findings also suggest that those perceiving they lack adequate emotional support, regardless of family role, may be in special need of services.