August 07, 2006

A New Orleans Mental Health Breakdown?

Last week we reported on a British Medical Association study that suggested poverty was a major factor in mental health problems. This week Time magazine reports that there may be a mental health breakdown in New Orleans (and poverty may be a factor):

Barbee, a professor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Clinic, sums up the situation with a quote he saw in a local magazine recently: "There's no 'post-' to the post-traumatic stress syndrome in this situation," he says. The stress, in other words, never goes away. "The event is still unfolding. People are losing jobs. They're moving because they're so discouraged by the situation. There's a lot of uncertainty about the future. It's not easy to live here."

Barbee is co-author of a report, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which tries to put some real numbers behind what many health care professionals have known anecdotally: that New Orleans may be in the midst of a serious breakdown, both among residents and the health care system needed to treat them. Barbee and his co-authors — psychiatrists Mark Townsend, also of LSUHSC, and Richard Weisler, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — pull together data that, collectively, provide a bleak snapshot of the city’s mental health condition as it approaches the storm's one-year anniversary.

...If there's a hopeful note to be found in the depressing pile of statistics, it's that Katrina's aftermath should yield lessons for mental health care providers dealing with a future disaster. "People will learn from us," says Townsend. "Because a disaster like this will occur again."

Given the funding cuts in Medicaid, and elsewhere, you have to wonder how well prepared the mental healthcare systems are for additional major disasters -- like a large earthquake in California. Our suspicion is it doesn't take much to break an already faltering mental healthcare system.

Read the full story: Is New Orleans Having a Mental Health Breakdown? (

Read the medical journal abstract: Mental Health and Recovery in the Gulf Coast After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Richard H. Weisler; James G. Barbee IV; Mark H. Townsend
JAMA. 2006;296:585-588.


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