Community Organizations and Individual Mental Health in the Wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings

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University of California, Irvine, 2017 - 156 pages
The relationship between community organization proximity and post-disaster mental health following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings is examined in this dissertation. Participant data come from representative samples of Boston and New York metropolitan area residents (N = 1,787) assessed several times over a two-year period. Contextual data come from the U.S. Census and online organization archives (Google Places Application Program Interface or API and Guidestar). To date, no known study has explored the psychological benefits or costs of community organizations post-disaster. Among Boston metropolitan area residents, living close to more safety-based organizations was associated with probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), functional impairment, and psychological distress. Among these residents, living near more health-based and child- and family-promoting organizations within a half to 1 mile area was associated with a lowered chance of having "probable PTSD" 6-7 months post-bombing and fewer fears and worries at the two year anniversary. For New York metropolitan area residents, educational organizations and health-based organizations appeared to have some buffering effects, though organization type concentration and proximity had less bearing overall on the psychological health of residents. Being directly exposed to the Boston Marathon bombings or having previously experienced at least one prior community trauma significantly moderated the relationship between organization concentration (i.e., child- and family-promoting organizations and voluntary community organizations) and short-term mental health outcomes. Specifically, among both subsamples, the presence of more organizations within a one mile area corresponded to lower acute stress scores and a decreased risk of being classified as having "probable PTSD" if the resident was directly exposed to the bombings or had a history of community trauma exposure. Also, for New York metropolitan area residents, more indirect media exposure was associated with a decreased risk for probable PTSD with more health-based and voluntary community organizations nearby. These findings suggest that organizations can often be helpful for disaster-exposed residents within or outside a disaster environment, but that select organizations (i.e., safety-based organizations) may be beneficial only at distance after a disaster. Geographic methods were also used to identify high distress clusters or outlier points using mental health data collected only on Boston metropolitan area residents. Consistent with prior research, significant high distress clusters were found near the site of the bombings. This supports the continued dispersion of relief aid to disaster-exposed areas in the aftermath. Finally, an automated cleaning method incorporating text analysis software (Meaning Extraction Helper or MEH) was outlined using open-source, educational organization data returned from Google Places API (N = 10,626). Compared against the manually cleaned data, the automated organization data were found to be an 89% match. It is therefore recommended that future studies using organization data employ the automated cleaning method to efficiently filter out the "noise" inherent in big datasets.

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