Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Advisor(s)

SHERYL A. MCCURDY, PhD

Second Advisor

ERIC C. JONES, PhD

Abstract

Losing material possessions during flood events is emotionally distressing and may contribute to the etiology of mental illness in flood survivors. Disaster research has investigated the tangible and intangible value of material possessions lost to flooding and the psychological impact of that forced removal. While these studies treat loss as a secondary disaster stressor, there is evidence that survivors’ cognitions and behaviors towards their possessions during primary exposure to flooding may impact their wellbeing. This exploratory qualitative study aims to describe essential features of flood survivors’ lived experience of material loss caused by flooding during Hurricane Harvey. Thirty open-ended interviews with Hurricane Harvey survivors were collected from minority households in areas of Houston that saw severe residential flooding. Phenomenological and narrative approaches to qualitative inquiry were chosen to inductively reveal core emotional, sensory, and relational characteristics constituting their narrative of living through loss during Harvey. Participants’ narratives followed a three-part structure: projections about agency and the losing control, the realization of material losses, and the interpretation of that loss in the aftermath. Participants characterized their experience of loss as unfolding over time and under various material circumstances and settings. Analysis revealed a typology reflecting substantial variation in the phenomena surrounding ir experience of material loss related within narratives. Participants who evacuated experienced the reality of their loss in the abstract until returning home to recognize the extent and emotional weight of their loss. Participants who did not evacuate gave vivid descriptions of the sensory experience and emotional distress of witnessing their dispossession firsthand and of trying and failing to prevent losses as they were occurring. This qualitative inquiry into participants’ lived experiences during hurricane Harvey offers the first empirical evidence towards characterizing the impact of primary exposure to material loss on subjective wellbeing.

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