Stigma of Help-Seeking Behavior Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Chris R. Locke, Danilea Werner


In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused multiple complications for the environment and people living in the rural regions of coastal Alabama. This study seeks to better understand the role of stigma related to help-seeking behavior of those living in the rural communities. Semi-structured focus groups were conducted one year after the oil spill with 21 mental health professionals and staff focused primarily in Gulf Shores and Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Participants described their interactions with clients needing a wide range of services after the disaster. Constant comparative analyses of the qualitative data yielded core themes around self-stigma, public stigma, cultural implications for mental health needs, and impact in the schools. Awareness of community resources, inclusion of key figures in the community, addressing the needs of children, acknowledging cultural differences, and a more thorough understanding of stigma related to seeking assistance as it relates to disasters are key to future planning.



disaster mental health, disaster response, Gulf oil spill, rural social work, stigma

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