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Gulf Oil Spill: One Year Later

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When a disaster like the Gulf oil spill happens, it’s easy to think that things may never get better. Yet as the months pass and the clean-up effort intensifies, hope begins to spring forth that businesses will recover, environmental habitats will slowly improve and new spawns of wildlife will repopulate the waters and the wetlands.

However, one year later, several issues still remain…

According to National Geographic, scientists say they are still documenting animal deaths and deformaties that are likely related to last year’s spill:

On the first anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, scientists are observing strange deaths and deformities in animals that could be related to the disaster, experts say.

In the past six months, the numbers of dolphin and sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico have risen, and some fish that inhabit the Gulf’s coral reefs have developed abnormalities.

But others say the biggest concern one year after the spill is mental health:

Now, a year after the Gulf oil spill, there are concerns that even though the ecological effects of the accident aren’t as great as initially feared, residents along the coast might suffer the same fate their predecessors in Alaska did. A forthcoming study of Gulf Coast residents affected by the spill — conducted by Picou, Liesel Ritchie of the University of Colorado and Duane Gill of Oklahoma State University — found that one-fifth of respondents qualified as being under severe stress, and one-fourth were in moderate stress. Those numbers are comparable to stress levels in the Prince William Sound area a few months after the Valdez spill.

What’s especially disconcerting about the Gulf oil spill and the mental health recovery effort is one of the main mechanisms set up to repay residents for time and money lost, has been said to be one of the main causes of continued mental stress in the Gulf:

The irony in the Gulf is that the one measure that was put in place specifically to reduce stress and get the community back on its feet quickly — the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which pays out damages from the spill — seems to be a major source of distress. The GCCF, which is run by Boston lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, was set up to disburse the $20 billion in funds put aside by BP to make the Gulf right, but since it began operations last August, residents have complained about slow payments, baffling paperwork and unfair settlements. There is confusion about whether lawyers should be involved, and anger over the fact that any resident accepting a final settlement from the fund has to forswear the right to sue BP or anyone else connected to the spill. The operation clearly isn’t perfect, but it’s “doing what’s intended,” Feinberg told reporters on April 18. For Gulf Coast residents, however, those good intentions are taking too long to play out.

Unfortunately, it is all too evident that the recovery effort in the Gulf is still fully underway, and the mental health recovery from this traumatic event still has a long way to go.

Click here to read all our previous posts on the Gulf spill and its impact on mental health.

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Written by traumalines

April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm

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VIDEO: “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill”

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Earlier this month we wrote about the oil spill’s impact on mental health:

“Now, as the oil spill fiasco in the gulf continues with no end in sight, the psychological damage to Gulf residents is beginning to outweigh the toll taken on the land.”

Thanks to Facebook, I came across a great video today from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that discusses the “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill.”

There’s “an entire region struggling emotionally from the stress and uncertainty of this tragedy,” wrote Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon.

“One of the tragedies that we have seen over and over again after large scale disasters, is really a spiraling downward of people who were, maybe, managing to keep their lives together, to keep their emotions and behaviors under control, but with some additional stress and some added disorganization in their community — really became quite disabled by their anxiety, depression and psychosis,” said Dr. Farris Tuma of the NIMH.

Check out the video below to learn which “action steps” Dr. Tuma suggests Gulf Coast victims take to battle this additional stress:

CLICK HERE to view the video.

Written by traumalines

July 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mental Health Assistance Continues for Victims of Oil Spill

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I have to say, I get the sense that all too often after a major traumatic event or large-scale disaster, widespread aid and assistance never seems to stick around long enough.

That said, I was rather surprised this week when I heard a radio commercial telling the story of how BP paid for all the business one Louisiana fisherman lost during the oil spill. Sure, that was likely an older story, a less-than-typical story about the assistance that the oil company doled out to the individual victims. But what isn’t an older story, what is an example of how long-term aid is still being provided to the victims of the spill is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s ongoing and expanded assistance to the spill’s victims:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in collaboration with the Ad Council today expanded efforts to continue to provide information, support and resources to individuals and families affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Emotional distress resulting from traumatic events can surface years after an incident occurs.

“While the immediate crisis is over, many Gulf Coast residents continue to need support as they work to rebuild their lives after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is natural for some people to need help over time in dealing with the emotional trauma and distress experienced from such an event and associated losses,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the early warning signs of serious emotional distress, and to provide access to free resources to those affected in the Gulf state region. The television PSA, featuring Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and other PSAs aim to help those living in the Gulf states get the assistance they may need to treat and alleviate long term psychological distress.

“For many who live on the Gulf Coast, this disaster has affected us very deeply,” said Dr. Benjamin. “We want anyone who is feeling distressed to know that getting help can be as simple as making a phone call or sending a text message.”

How can an oil spill affect mental health?

Dr. J. Steven Picou, a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama and one of the foremost experts in mental health issues related to oil spills, is worried that, much like post-Valdez Alaska, cities like New Orleans will devolve into a “corrosive community.” In his 1996 study “The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Chronic Psychological Stress”, he describes Cordova, Alaska, the area most adversely affected by the Valdez, as a community marked by loss of social capital — meaning loss of trust, family, friendships, networks and the sense of belonging within the community. As Cordova’s sense of community “corroded,” there was a rise in domestic violence, self isolation and medicating and depression. He also noted that prolonged exposure to an oil spill will cause many to dwell on the horrifying realities of the disaster, eventually leading to more severe mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For more information:
Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health
BP pledges $52 million to support mental health

Written by traumalines

February 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health

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“Now, as the oil spill fiasco in the gulf continues with no end in sight, the psychological damage to Gulf residents is beginning to outweigh the toll taken on the land.”
Gideon Pine, The Huffington Post

Each day when we turn on the news, open a newspaper or log onto the internet, we can’t escape the latest updates on the Gulf oil spill. There are the disturbing pictures of the oil-drenched wildlife, the glossy surface of the incoming brown tide, not to mention the live video feed of the never-ending volcano of oil, erupting from the depths of the ocean, floating all the way to our nation’s shores.

But as we try and grasp the devastating toll this oil spill has taken on our nation’s wildlife and the surrounding economy, we need to understand the spill’s impact on the mental health of its victims, and act quickly to help them:

Two months since the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, mental health professionals in the region are preparing for the worst, citing the potential for depression, domestic violence and even suicide. Dr. Elmore Rigamer, medical director for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, told Huffington Post that he and his colleagues are prepared for a multi-pronged approach and anticipate challenges, since many of those most afflicted do not have the financial means or time to seek counseling.

Mental health care is crucial in this period, [Rigamer] emphasizes, noting that in general there is only a three-to-four month window in which the victims can adequately cope with hardship, followed by worsening depression and a sense of hopelessness.

Much of the stress is tied to concerns about the future economy of the region and the disappearance of fishing and shrimping jobs that have been handed down for generations.

Corrosive Community

The experts fear that the Gulf Coast will experience the same mental health issues as the residents in certain parts of Alaska following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989:

Dr. J. Steven Picou, a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama and one of the foremost experts in mental health issues related to oil spills, is worried that, much like post-Valdez Alaska, cities like New Orleans will devolve into a “corrosive community.” In his 1996 study “The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Chronic Psychological Stress”, he describes Cordova, Alaska, the area most adversely affected by the Valdez, as a community marked by loss of social capital — meaning loss of trust, family, friendships, networks and the sense of belonging within the community. As Cordova’s sense of community “corroded,” there was a rise in domestic violence, self isolation and medicating and depression. He also noted that prolonged exposure to an oil spill will cause many to dwell on the horrifying realities of the disaster, eventually leading to more severe mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Besides the intervention of thousands of volunteers, what can be done to help the victims of the Gulf spill? Dr. Rigamer offers a very interesting solution that really seems to make sense:

It is well-documented that the infrastructure of the Gulf wetlands is in need of a massive overhaul, yet there have been no efforts to do so in the last 40 years. Rigamer suggests that BP, in an act of good faith, set aside funds for the rehabilitation of the wetlands and hire displaced workers and the unemployed to carry out the task.

READERS: What do you think of Rigamer’s idea?

Written by traumalines

July 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

BP pledges $52 million to support mental health

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The sun shined a little brighter today down in the Gulf. Shrimpers in Louisiana reported their first clean day of fishing, and the states affected by the spill will be getting millions from BP to support mental health services:

Funds will go to one federal and four state agencies to provide support and outreach services for mental health programs in the Gulf of Mexico region. In what appears to be its first nod to the mental health challenges from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP announced Monday, Aug. 16, it will provide $52 million in funding for one federal and four state agencies to provide support and outreach services for mental health programs in the Gulf.

Here’s a breakdown of the federal and state funding:

AMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) – $10 million

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals – $15 million

Mississippi Department of Mental Health – $12 million

Alabama Department of Mental Health – $12 million

Florida Department of Children and Families – $3 million

Besides the physical ailments that have surfaced after the spill — rashes, respiratory discomforts, etc. — mental health concerns skyrocketed. Why do mental health issues surface so fast after a natural disaster like an oil spill?

Dr. Farris Tuma of the NIMH explains: “One of the tragedies that we have seen over and over again after large scale disasters, is really a spiraling downward of people who were, maybe, managing to keep their lives together, to keep their emotions and behaviors under control, but with some additional stress and some added disorganization in their community — really became quite disabled by their anxiety, depression and psychosis. (Click here to view a video in which Dr. Tuma discusses the “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill.”)

Related Posts:

Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health
VIDEO: “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill”

Written by traumalines

August 17, 2010 at 8:19 pm