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Katrina Victims at Risk for Long-Term Mental Health Problems

Armen Hareyan's picture

Mental Health and Katrina Victims

A critical shortage of primary care doctors, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in the Gulf Coast region is preventing thousands of people from getting needed mental health care, which may lead to long-term problems for many, according to a Duke University Medical Center psychiatrist who has recently returned from a tour of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, La.

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Weisler is co-author of a commentary on the status of mental health recovery efforts in the Gulf region following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It appears in the August 2, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"There are serious health consequences when people don't get the right treatment for a mental health problem in time," Weisler says. "The longer these people go without the attention they need, the higher the rate and severity of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance abuse. Care providers in this region are overloaded due to patient volume which, combined with an overall shortage of psychiatric facilities and financial resources, is keeping many patients from getting the help they need."

Weisler believes that shortcomings in a 30-year-old federal law are also contributing to the mental health problems in the stricken region. The Stafford Act of 1974, while mandating that federal funds be provided for care during a time of crisis, does not provide funding for treatment of mental disorders that are usually chronic in nature, Weisler said. He argues that the mental health situation is worsening because people are going longer without appropriate care.