Mental Health

The Mental Health Consequences of Disasters

 The Mental Health Consequences of Disasters   

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an environmental disaster of unknown proportions, but for the people whose way of life stands to be affected, it may be a mental health disaster as well. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the mental health consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill were “as significant as its impact on the physical environment.”  

The oil spill makes it vital to keep morale up in Gulf region:

FORT JACKSON, La. — Even the Super Bowl champions are doing their part to lift people’s spirits during the Gulf oil spill.

“Just like we did after (Hurricane) Katrina, we’re trying to do our part to keep the community’s morale high,” said Sean Payton, coach of the champion New Orleans Saints, as he signed autographs in withering heat. “We’re always here for each other.”

For local officials, the rally was part of a broader plan that goes way beyond football.

They say that anything that can distract Gulf Coast residents from the trauma of the oil spill — whether it’s prayer, a party or just venting their anger — may help prevent the long-term mental health consequences that have plagued previous disasters, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

 The Mental Health Consequences of Disasters   

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an environmental disaster of unknown proportions, but for the people whose way of life stands to be affected, it may be a mental health disaster as well. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the mental health consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill were “as significant as its impact on the physical environment.”  

Oil spill makes it vital to keep morale up in Gulf region

FORT JACKSON, La. — Even the Super Bowl champions are doing their part to lift people’s spirits during the Gulf oil spill.

“Just like we did after (Hurricane) Katrina, we’re trying to do our part to keep the community’s morale high,” said Sean Payton, coach of the champion New Orleans Saints, as he signed autographs in withering heat. “We’re always here for each other.”

For local officials, the rally was part of a broader plan that goes way beyond football.

They say that anything that can distract Gulf Coast residents from the trauma of the oil spill — whether it’s prayer, a party or just venting their anger — may help prevent the long-term mental health consequences that have plagued previous disasters, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“That’s absolutely what this is about,” said Billy Nungesser, the president of coastal Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, who also attended Tuesday’s rally.

“I haven’t seen people smile since this whole thing started,” he said. He gestured to the crowd as a jazz band played When the Saints Go Marching In. “Now look at them. They’re smiling today.”

Crisis counselors have deployed throughout the Gulf to provide help to those who need it, said John Young, council chairman in Jefferson Parish. In the fishing community of Grand Isle, he says a state counselor rides around town on a bicycle, striking up conversations with fishermen who might be too shy — or too macho — to seek help on their own.

“She’s the daughter of a fisherman herself, so she knows how to talk to these guys,” Young said.

Louisiana has put five such teams of counselors throughout the state, said Terri Spear, an emergency coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services. Other Gulf states are relying on existing mental health professionals but held a meeting Tuesday to discuss whether more resources are needed, she said.

A 1993 study for the National Institutes of Health showed significant mental health issues in Alaska one year after the Valdez spill. Among 599 area residents, nearly 10% of them showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found.

The study concluded that the mental health consequences of the spill were “as significant as its impact on the physical environment.”

Even today, some Alaska residents continue to deal with psychological effects such as depression stemming from the Valdez spill, according to the website of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, a community group.

At the Port Sulphur Baptist Church, just north of Fort Jackson, a sign reads, “Pray For Our Fishermen.” Pastor Lynn Rodrigue says part of his job is to look after the spiritual health of his congregation.

“It’s not something people want to talk about, but the situation has definitely got people on edge,” Rodrigue said. “They’re asking things like, ‘What am I going to do to provide for my family?’ So we’re trying to stay ahead of that, talk to people, and address these issues before they explode.”

Following Sunday’s services, a member of the congregation quietly approached Rodrigue and asked him to add her husband to the prayer list because he couldn’t sleep because of the stress.

The idea to hold the Saints rally here came from the players and coaches and was approved by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, team owner Tom Benson said. Saints quarterback Drew Brees told the crowd the team would sell $2 tickets for a raffle for a Super Bowl ring, and hoped to raise $1 million.

“Just like the Saints overcame the odds, Louisiana is going to win this battle to save our coast,” Jindal said to raucous cheers. “We will win this war.”

© 2010 USA TODAY

NAMI wrote:

The funding implications of this potential mental health crisis may be significant. The NIH study found that 10 percent of those affected by the Valdez oil spill were living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) one year later. Research using National Institute of Mental Health information from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita found that mental health care costs would exceed $1,000 per person in the seven to 24 month period after such a disaster. (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2009/economic-analysis-estimates-cost-of-providing-comprehensive-mental-health-care-following-disasters.shtml)

Louisiana officials at the front lines of the spill are emphasizing community as one way to boost morale. Whether they are coming together to meet sports heroes, play traditional music, or meet with crisis counselors, getting people together for mutual support is paramount. The New Orleans Times Picayune interviewed Amy Dickson, a clinical psychologist for Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center, who echoed the importance of community, saying that taking action, in whatever small or symbolic way, can “bring people together so they can share their feelings.”

Those not directly in the path of the spill may still experience stress from viewing news about the events. The sensation of being overwhelmed by media coverage of a disaster has been called “compassion fatigue” because it stems from compassion—a good thing. We care about a disaster because we feel connected to the victims and wish we could help them. And it can be frustrating when we don’t know what to do. You don’t have to turn your back on the news entirely, but it’s important to find a balance between staying informed and staying healthy.

*Forum Admin Note:-
Stay connected with NAMI & Depression Forums and your other communities of support during stressful times.

 
Thankfully, the beaches are beautiful and wide open for business! Now is the perfect time to plan your beach vacation getaway! Seafood is delicious, shopping is fantastic, and area attractions offer fun for the whole family.

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