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Anxiety Stress Coping. 2012 May;25(3):329-47. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2011.603048. Epub 2011 Aug 1.

The impact of uncertainty and communal coping on mental health following natural disasters.

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Department of Communication, University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-4020, USA.


Feelings of uncertainty are a central feature of the disaster experience. Surprisingly, though, there is very little systematic quantitative research about the impact of uncertainty on disaster survivors. Moreover, communal coping has increasingly received attention as a potential buffer of the negative effects of stressors but that literature is also limited in its application to disasters. This investigation applies research in the domain of uncertainty, together with the Theoretical Model of Communal Coping to better understand the experience of a community exposed to three wildfires in a one year period. A random-digit dialing procedure was used to gather data from 402 individuals. Participants completed measures of mental health, uncertainty, and communal coping in the context of their experience with the most personally stressful of the three wildfires. All analyses were examined separately for those who were evacuated and those who were not. Results support the negative impact of uncertainty across both evacuated and nonevacuated sub-samples and show a strong buffering role for communal coping among those who evacuated. The implications of these findings for the understanding of wildfire survivors' experiences are noted and future directions are proposed.

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