Newswise — Five years ago, on April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded; over the next five months, more than 206 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, affecting more than 950 miles of shoreline.

The spill caused enormous environmental damage, but it also caused great stress among Gulf Coast residents. Even five years after the disaster, a significant percentage of people there continue to deal with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, says Lynn Grattan, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She has been studying residents’ reactions, and says the spill continues to cause psychological problems.

“The spill is out of the headlines now, but those who live along the Gulf Coast are still dealing with this,” said Dr. Grattan. “Our research shows clearly that this disaster has had long-lasting and corrosive psychological effects, extending well beyond the areas where there was direct exposure to oil. We found exceedingly high levels of stress and anger.”

For many, emotional distress was tied closely with income loss. In the months after the spill, fishing and other coastal industries were sharply curtailed. The spill also affected tourism.

Grattan has focused her work on two areas, Baldwin County, Alabama, and Franklin County, Florida. She and her colleagues at the University of Florida have conducted several surveys and have published several studies over the past five years. They interviewed several hundred subjects. The results underscore the need to develop strategies to deal with psychological stress related to human-caused disasters.

Dr. Grattan has years of experience doing research in coastal areas. She has studied watermen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as fisherman in the Pacific Northwest and in the Virgin Islands. Much of her research focuses on the neurological effects of toxic chemicals that end up in the marine food chain. In the Gulf spill, she found no evidence so far that chemicals related to the spills have led to neurological effects in humans.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

The University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States and continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S. with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world.