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Mental Illnesses Increase Among Gulf Coast Residents

Armen Hareyan's picture

Fourteenpercent of GulfCoastresidents reported serious mental illnesses two years after Hurricane Katrina,compared with 10.9% six months after the 2005 storm hit the area, according toa Harvard University survey, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Ronald Kessler, a healthcare policy professor at Harvard, on Wednesday presented the study at a SenateHomeland Security and Government Affairs DisasterRecovery Subcommitteehearing. For the survey, researchers conducted follow-up interviews with 800 ofthe 1,000 area residents who were first interviewed six months after Katrina.

According to Kessler, the percentage of residents reporting suicidal tendenciesincreased from 2.8% six months after the hurricane to 6.4% as residents'initial optimism for a quick recovery faded. The percentage of serious mentalillnesses in the New Orleansarea increased slightly from 16.5% six months after the hurricane to 16.9%,Kessler said. However, Kessler could not provide an explanation for why therates did not significantly increase in an area where people were most affectedby the hurricane, the Times-Picayunereports.

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Anthony Speier, director of disaster mental health operations at the Louisiana Office of Mental Health, said Kessler's report requiredfurther analysis, but he speculated that people with mental health problems whowere displaced by Katrina would be more likely to experience difficultyreturning to the area because they generally have fewer resources and copingskills to deal with recovery efforts.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who led the subcommittee hearing, said the mentalhealth crisis in the GulfCoast area has become"one of the most critical issues facing the recovery." She noted thatthere are 22 practicing psychiatrists in New Orleans, compared with 196 before Katrina. A survey of1,638 children in grades four through 12 found that 54% reported serious mental health issues, includingpost-traumatic stress disorder, Landrieu said. In addition, waiting times formental health care also have increased from days to months, according to Landrieu(Alpert, New OrleansTimes-Picayune, 11/1).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.