Post-Katrina Mental Health Is Not Improving
> 8/22/2007 10:49:28 AM

We don't need any more celebrity drop-ins to remind us that the process of rebuilding New Orleans has so far been unsatisfactory, to say the least. And repeated news stories about the sorry state of mental health among the victims of Hurricane Katrina hardly constitute a revelation. But newly released surveys indicate that the already regrettable status of so many of those affected by the disaster is only getting worse.

The poll informing this latest press release surveyed more than 1,000 people in the surrounding area, finding that the number who reportedly considered suicide more than doubled since a similar survey completed six months after the storm hit in August 2005. The percentage of participants who exhibited clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder had also risen considerably from 16% to 21%. If the survey, which was conducted based on random samples in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, had focused strictly on those who were either in the area when the storm hit or were forced to leave because of it, these numbers would certainly be higher. Poor, barely-functioning area schools and increases in violent crime have only compounded the problem. Based on the contrasts between results in '05 and '07, it would appear that an inital sense of optimism or hope against hope that our country would effectively rescue those whose lives were ruined has long since begun to fade. These published conclusions follow very similar findings in a 2006 study accompanied by powerful statements from panelists representing the humanitarian advocacy group Carter Center. They asserted that, due to a dearth of related services in the area, many victims had been unable to receive treatment for mental health problems developed both before the storm and in its wake. This testimony still applies.

In a rare instance of inspiring news on the subject, a majority of participants in a far more encouraging 2006 survey indicated that the disaster had intensified their personal convictions and led to a deeper sense of purpose in their own lives. Rather than engaging in ouright political demagoguery in naming the area citizens' perceived inability to help themselves as evidence of a failed "welfare state," observers would do well to learn more about the emotional and psychological consequences of such tragedies and the reasons why sufficient sources of aid have yet to arrive (a 2005 Act pledging 10% of all recovery funding to public mental health initiatives unfortunately failed to make its way through Congress). New Orleans will most likely never return to its previous glory, and the blame for its current state falls across the social and political spectrum. But the facts are very simple: its victims are still suffering, in most cases, through no fault of their own, and they're not getting the help they need and deserve. We cannot extend debates on the political nature of this problem (local or federal, Democrat or Republican) while citizens and resources continue to waste away.

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