Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Family Consumer Human Development


Gerald R. Adams


On May 18, 1980, the town of Othello, Washington was covered with volcanic ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption. Disaster research suggested that a natural disaster acted on impacted populations as a major stressor and could result in such stress-related symtoms/problems as anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, family problems, etc. It was hypothesized that there would be an increase in the incidence of such symptoms/problems following the ashfall. Most previous research has relied on subjective accounts of victims, but data for this study came from selected objective indices such as mental health caseloads, welfare assistance grants, hospital admissions, police records, etc. Data were compared for a 12-month pre-disaster baseline, and a 7-month post-disaster period. Of the 34 indices examined, five showed significant post-disaster decreases, and nine failed to meet the criterion for significance. Twenty indices showed significant increases and these seemed to clearly support the hypothesis. Two rival hypotheses were explored as possible causal factors: local unemployment rates, and economic factors affecting agriculture. The disaster hypothesis fit the observed data more precisely and seemed most logical as a probably causal agent.