Hurricane Katrina's Destructive Influence Continues Unabated
> 10/9/2007 11:56:53 AM

More than two years after the winds and floods of two huge storms effectively disabled the famed city of New Orleans and the immediate surrounding area, promised relief has largely failed to appear, and health professionals have witnessed a recent downturn in the mental and emotional well-being of those who remain in the area. The nightmare scenario painted by these reports is nothing new; year-old stories noting serious spikes in mental illness among survivors still ring true, and according to a survey by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, these long-standing problems have only intensified.

The study tracked the responses of 161 healthcare professionals currently working in the area, intending to construct a general overview of current mental health conditions in and around the New Orleans area. Foremost among the many noted diagnostic complaints: more than 90% of respondents reported a considerable rise in PTSD and major depression cases. In the face of the tragedy's continuing influence and the abject poverty that has only intensified for many residents, an increasing number have turned to drugs and alcohol, and 83% of the professionals working in the area report increases in addiction cases.

Possible explanations for the deplorable state of mental health in southern Louisiana include an abundance of late-onset PTSD cases and the inevitable acceptance of the fact that the unfortunate circumstances under which far too many citizens currently live will not be improving any time soon. The main reason for this stagnant state seems to be a general lack of interest, money and manpower. A majority of the professionals who took the survey reported their programs to be lacking in staff and funding despite state officials' statements implying that currently allocated resource levels are adequate. Many of the  local participants themselves reported that they had been unable to rebuild their homes and that they were still living in and operating out of FEMA's infamous trailers. 50% reported experiencing pronounced burnout due to the overwhelming workload and lack of results seen in the region.

Beneath the reports of unrelieved suffering in Katrina's unacceptably extended wake lies an admirably encouraging statistic: four out of five mental health professionals plan to stay in the area and treat its residents for the foreseeable future. The national spotlight has yet to shine on these (effectively) dedicated public servants, but their sacrifices say more about the stature of the United States than the ongoing bureaucratic failures of our government on both the local and national levels. Their goals may not add up to a quest for personal glory, but their inspiring stories will be told with time. More than three-quarters of those interviewed state, very reasonably, that further financial compensation "would be helpful" both to maintain their operations in the area and attract more qualified professionals to assist them with the mammoth task ahead. The effects of this storm will be with us for years, and an increased investment in mental health resources (and health services in general) amounts to a mere pittance in the face of such pronounced, ongoing tragedy.

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