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Hurricane Katrina Survivors Experience Psychological Stress

Armen Hareyan's picture

The percentage of New Orleans residents reporting signs of severemental illness increased from 11% to 14% between March 2006 and thissummer, compared with about 6% before Hurricane Katrina hit more thantwo years ago, according to a recent Harvard Medical School survey, the Washington Postreports. The survey also found that the percentage of people in NewOrleans who reported suicidal thoughts increased from 3% to 8% betweenMarch 2006 and the summer of 2007.

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According to the Post,"it is not Hurricane Katrina itself but the persistent frustrations ofthe delayed recovery that are exacting a high psychological toll ofpeople who never before had such troubles," psychiatrists say. Calls tomental health hot lines in the area surged after the hurricane and haveremained high, according to organizers. In addition, area psychiatristsare overbooked because of a heightened demand.

Ronald Kessler, aprofessor of health care policy at Harvard and leader of the study,said, "It's really stunning in juxtaposition to what these kinds ofsurveys have shown after other disasters, or after people have beenraped or mugged." Typically, "people have a lot of trouble the firstnight and the first month afterward. Then you see a lot ofimprovement," he said. However, with the rebuilding process in NewOrleans going slowly, residents are "in this stage of where there are alot of people just kind of giving up," Kessler said.

Daphne Glindmeyer, a New Orleans psychiatrist and president of the Louisiana Psychiatric Medical Association,said, "There's more depression, more financial problems, more maritalconflict, more thoughts of suicide," adding, "And a lot of it is inpeople who never had any trouble before" (Whoriskey, Washington Post, 9/23).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.