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Mental Illnesses Reported By 17% Of New Orleans Residents After Hurricane

Armen Hareyan's picture

In the first month after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans andsurrounding areas in August 2005, 17% of the city's residents reportedserious mental illness, compared with 10% of people living in areasnear the city and an estimated prevalence of 1% to 3% in the generalpopulation, according to a study published Tuesday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the New York Times reports. Lead author Sandro Galea, an associate professor at the University of Michigan,and colleagues from seven universities surveyed 1,043 adults from NewOrleans and surrounding areas from January to March 2006.

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Theyfound that nearly half of New Orleans residents reported significantsigns of anxiety in the first month after the storm and that women,young adults and people with lower incomes were hardest hit. The studyfound that most of the mental problems were caused by post-traumaticstress disorder. PTSD symptoms often were associated with incidentsthat occurred after the storm, including robberies, assaults andproperty loss.

The authors said that the symptoms -- whichinclude flashbacks, nightmares and hair-trigger temper -- are expectedto alleviate for most people over time. For 3% to 10% of people, thesymptoms could continue for a year or longer. Experts said the studywill help policymakers understand how to allocate resources after suchan event.

Galea said, "The main message here is that theprimary drivers of mental health risk were social and financialcircumstances. So if we're intent on minimizing psychopathology, itmeans mitigating those stressors quickly" (Carey, New York Times, 12/4).

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 HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.