Insurance Issues as Secondary Stressors Following Flooding in Rural Australia—A Mixed Methods Study
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Flood events can be dramatic and traumatic. People exposed to floods are liable to suffer from a variety of adverse mental health outcomes. The adverse effects of stressors during the recovery process (secondary stressors) can sometimes be just as severe as the initial trauma. Six months after extensive flooding in rural Australia, a survey of 2530 locals was conducted focusing on their flood experiences and mental health status. This mixed methods study analysed (a) quantitative data from 521 respondents (21% of total survey respondents) who had insurance coverage and whose household was inundated, 96 (18%) of whom reported an insurance dispute or denial; and (b) qualitative data on insurance-related topics in the survey’s open comments sections. The mental health outcomes were all significantly associated with the degree of flood inundation. The association was strong for probable PTSD and ongoing distress (Adjusted Odds Ratios (AORs) with 95% confidence intervals 2.67 (1.8–4.0) and 2.30 (1.6–3.3), respectively). The associations were less strong but still significant for anxiety and depression (AORs 1.79 (1.2–2.7) and 1.84 (1.2–2.9)). The secondary stressor of insurance dispute had stronger associations with ongoing distress and depression than the initial flood exposure (AORs 2.43 (1.5–3.9) and 2.34 (1.4–3.9), respectively). Insurance was frequently mentioned in the open comment sections of the survey. Most comments (78% of comments from all survey respondents) were negative, with common adverse trends including dispute/denial, large premium increases after a claim, inconsistencies in companies’ responses and delayed assessments preventing timely remediation.
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