Background: Limited research has evaluated distinct aspects of disaster experience as predictors of affective symptoms. In this study, we examined the extent to which maternal depression and anxiety over time were predicted by (1) objective hardship from a flood during pregnancy, (2) peritraumatic distress and (3) cognitive appraisal of the flood's consequences.
Methods: Data were drawn from the 2011 Queensland Flood Study, a prospective, longitudinal study of pregnancy (n = 183). Mothers’ disaster experience was measured within 1 year after the flood. Their levels of depression, anxiety and stress were measured at 16 months, 30 months, 4 years and 6 years after childbirth. Linear mixed models were employed to evaluate symptom trajectories.
Results: There were no time-dependent effects of disaster-related variables. Objective hardship did not predict outcomes. Peritraumatic distress significantly predicted depression and anxiety symptoms when cognitive appraisal was negative. Conversely, when cognitive appraisal was neutral or positive, the effect of peritraumatic distress was “buffered”. For anxiety, but not depression, this interaction survived Bonferroni correction. Neutral/positive cognitive appraisal similarly moderated the effect of peritraumatic dissociation.
Limitations: The generalizability of our findings is limited by overall low levels of depression and anxiety, along with a predominantly Caucasian, higher socioeconomic status sample. Potential confounders such as pre-disaster anxiety were not controlled for.
Conclusion: In line with previous evidence, this study supports the predictive validity of peritraumatic distress for post-disaster depression and anxiety. Our findings suggest that cognitive appraisal could be a relevant target for interventions aimed at fostering maternal resilience.