The Role of Natural Disaster in Individual and Relational Adjustment: A Longitudinal Examination of the Associations between Maternal Mental Health, Child Physical Health, and Family Cohesion among Sri Lankan Survivors of the 2004 Tsunami



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The prevalence of natural disasters, and the enormous impact they have on the lives of those affected is significant and far reaching. Previous research focused on adverse effects has indicated that exposure to natural disasters may exert particular consequences for mental health. The relational outcomes of disaster survivors are yet to be fully understood and adequately examined. Furthermore, women, especially in lower income countries, are more likely to suffer adverse financial, physical, mental and emotional outcomes of disaster. Women in developing countries, and familistic or community oriented cultures are primarily responsible for care giving in the home. When a disaster leaves people injured or debilitated in its wake, it is often women who assume the primary care giving role on their behalf. Little is understood about the dynamic of having a child with a physical health problem resulting from a disaster, and how the presence of such a health problem relates to maternal mental health status. The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between maternal mental health, the presence of a child’s disaster-related physical health problems and family cohesion over time among Sri Lankan survivors of the 2004 tsunami. Each of these variables was measured using a self-report questionnaire administered four months after the tsunami and again three years later. Path analysis was utilized to examine the relationships between the key variables. Results of the path analysis indicated that mental health and family cohesion four months after the disaster significantly predicted variance in mental health and family cohesion three years later. Clinical and empirical research implications are presented and discussed.



Tsunami, Maternal mental health, Family cohesion, Child health problems