Can increasing optimism levels before an unexpected natural disaster improve our mental health outcome afterwards?
Dispositional optimism, the general belief that good things will happen, has been proven to improve subjective wellbeing, physical health and coping strategies after adverse events. Optimism is also a crucial component in maintaining strong mental health after traumatic life events. However, it has previously been suggested that being too optimistic may actually be a disadvantage when it comes to overcoming extreme situations, such as traumatic events which have little positive expectations associated with them.
So, with global warming being a growing issue, is it beneficial for us to attempt to build our optimism levels in case of an increase in natural disasters? Will this allow us to experience better mental health after these tragic events?
To test this, Gero et al. (2021) examined how optimism is associated with mental health after a natural disaster, using a longitudinal study with 962 Japanese residents who survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 7 months before the tragedy, information about optimism was collected from them and almost 3 years after the disaster, data regarding their personal experience, loss and symptoms of depression and PTSD was also gathered.
Gero et al. found that higher pre-disaster optimism was associated with lower development of depressive and posttraumatic symptoms after the disaster, with a better resilience against these negative states. Also, high optimism buffered the harmful impact of housing damage on depressive symptoms. As natural disasters are unpreventable and inescapable, working on improving our optimism may lead us to cope better after the event, if one may occur in the near future.