DANVILLE - Geisinger Health System announces plans to conduct a study into the use of mental health services during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the coastal New Jersey counties of Monmouth and Ocean.

"Hurricane Sandy offers a unique opportunity to study the impact of a large-scale natural disaster in a major shore community," said Dr. Joseph Boscarino, MPH, senior investigator, Center for Health Research, Geisinger Health System, and lead investigator on the study. "Through this study, we hope to gain a better understanding of how mental health services were used and their outcomes, so that the providers of those services can be prepared in the future."

The study will be conducted through telephone surveys of community residents, who will be questioned about the extent to which they were impacted by the disaster, their health status before the disaster and whether they have experienced any mental health impacts as a result of the disaster, such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study seeks to provide healthcare providers with a community needs assessment and clinical screening tools that can be utilized in future community disasters.

This study builds on Boscarino's research efforts over the past decade, a body of research that has sought to understand the availability and outcomes of community-based mental health services following exposure to community disasters and other traumatic events. Specifically, the study will build upon Boscarino's research conducted in New York City following the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, which found that while the use of mental health services did not increase substantially in the 12 months following terror attacks, it did increase 24 months afterwards.

This research also suggested that brief, emergency mental health services immediately after trauma exposure were associated with better mental health outcomes up to two years after a World Trade Center disaster. Boscarino's research team is also studying the impact warzone deployment and psychological stress among returning war veterans at Geisinger.

Boscarino plans to have the study completed in May, with results available the following month.

"Events like Hurricane Sandy can be devastating for the residents who are affected," Boscarino said. "The goal here is to understand what happened, learn from it and be prepared moving forward, as hurricane season will be starting again, very soon."

Hurricane Sandy devastated portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States during late October 2012. Preliminary estimates assess damage at nearly $50 billion, according to the National Hurricane Center, which would make it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, behind only Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Sandy caused 72 deaths and destroyed more than 650,000 U.S. homes.