Growing Need for Mental Health Care a Legacy of Katrina and Oil Spill

 Photo by Matthew McDermott. All Rights Reserved.
Hong Hai Ta and Vu Thi Kinh, like so many fishing families, struggle for economic survival in aftermath of oil spill. Photo by Matthew McDermott. All Rights Reserved.

Today, five years after Hurricane Katrina, AmeriCares works closely with many community-based health care groups in Louisiana and Mississippi, helping people grapple with new threats to their lives and livelihoods from the massive BP oil spill coupled with the worst recession in 70 years.  

The impact on the oil, tourism and fishing industries has added yet another burden for families in the region, struggling daily for economic survival and finding themselves without access to basic health care.   Since the April 20 oil spill, AmeriCares has donated more than $270,000 worth of medicines and supplies to 11 Gulf Coast clinics serving the poor and uninsured, and we continue to send shipments to meet the increasing demand for health services.

The remaining images from Katrina – abandoned homes, empty lots, remnants of once thriving neighborhoods –are now joined by idle fishing boats, oil rigs and closed businesses.  Many children are especially vulnerable to the long term psychological effects of fear and loss.  The need for mental health services spike in the aftermath of major crises.

“Mental illness is a silent killer and contributes to serious loss of life due to suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse,” said AmeriCares Medical Director Dr. Frank Bia.  “Combine psychological trauma and emotional stress with untreated chronic health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure and the consequences of lost access to primary health care multiply. “

Our Commitment to the Future

Health care access remains a focus of AmeriCares long-term presence in the region and access to specialty care such as mental health services poses a particular challenge.  Since many families don't have health insurance to pay for such care, AmeriCares is making a new commitment by funding mental health assessments and counseling in the Biloxi area and other community-based health programs to identify and treat anxiety and depression, as well as increasing deliveries of mental health medicines to clinics.

Our disaster relief work along the Gulf Coast after Katrina enabled us to strengthen partnerships with community health care organizations and expand programs.  As we have extended our commitment to health care access in the region beyond Katrina recovery efforts, we have delivered over $24 million in medical aid throughout the U.S. this year.