Understanding Resilience and Other Trajectories of Psychological Distress: a Mixed-Methods Study of Low-Income Mothers Who Survived Hurricane Katrina

Sarah R. Lowe, Jean E. Rhodes, Mary C. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Recent longitudinal studies in the aftermath of natural disasters have shown that resilience, defined as a trajectory of consistently low symptoms, is the modal experience, although other trajectories representing adverse responses, including chronic or delayed symptom elevations, occur in a substantial minority of survivors. Although these studies have provided insight into the prototypical patterns of postdisaster mental health, the factors that account for these patterns remain unclear. In the current analysis, we aimed to fill this gap through a mixed-methods study of female participants in the Resilience in Survivors of Katrina (RISK) study. Latent class growth analysis identified six trajectories of psychological distress in the quantitative sample (n = 386). Qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with 54 participants identified predisaster, disaster-related and postdisaster experiences that could account for the trends in the quantitative data. In particular, preexisting and gains in psychosocial resources (e.g., emotion regulation, religiosity) and positive postdisaster impacts (e.g., greater neighborhood satisfaction, improved employment opportunities) were found to underlie resilience and other positive mental health outcomes. Conversely, experiences of childhood trauma, and pre and postdisaster stressors (e.g., difficulties in intimate partner relationships) were common among participants in trajectories representing adverse psychological responses. Illustrative case studies that exemplify each trajectory are presented. The results demonstrate the utility of mixed-methods analysis to provide a richer picture of processes underlying postdisaster mental health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-550
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2015


  • Case studies
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Mental health
  • Mixed-methods analysis
  • Natural disasters
  • Resilience
  • Trajectory analysis

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