Monday, August 28, 2006

Emotional devastation surfaces from Katrina

Study: Storm survivors find will to live

Mental health problems roughly doubled in the months after Hurricane Katrina, but thoughts of suicide among those with mental health problems actually decreased, according to a new study. That surprising finding might be due to a high level of optimism and resiliency among survivors, the researchers at Harvard University said.

Nearly 85 percent of the survivors faced a major financial, income, or housing loss, and more than a third endured extreme physical adversity after Katrina struck a year ago and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the survey showed. Nearly 23 percent encountered extreme psychological adversity.

About 25 percent reported having nightmares about their experiences -- a figure that rises to nearly 50 percent for people who lived in New Orleans.

Not everyone is convinced by the Harvard findings. The deputy psychiatric coroner in Orleans Parish, La., claims that suicide rates tripled in the months after Katrina. Meanwhile, a New Orleans psychiatrist says that in recent months, many of his own patients seem to have lost hope. Allan Coukell examines the issues for National Public Radio.

Related: Katrina: Then and Now (USA Today photo gallery)

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Alina said...

I do believe having survived when others are dead is good enough reason to have some optimism and keep hoping. However, surviving just to face more troubles might give the feeling it was all for nothing. I guess it highly depends on the types of persons affected. Optimists will tend to keep their attitude, while pessimists will probably do the same.

There are people who are build to endure more than others, with a big smile on thier face. I think the rest should try to copy their attitude and then make it their own. It is, on the long run, a more profitable choice than giving up. However, it is easier to be drawn into others' dispair than into their hopes for better.

Deb S. said...

Alina: There is much truth in what you say. In this sort of devastation, however, some who survive feel guilty because they survived and others close to them did not.

I heard the story of a colleague in my town who was in New Orleans the day Katrina struck. She spoke about a large number of family members climbing to the roof. One family member, a female, was too large to get through the opening in the roof.
Everyone held on to this woman's arms for dear life, praying and not wanting to let her go. Finally, however, the woman begged her relatives to let her go because she was tired, and she didn't want to risk injury or death to someone else.

Reluctantly and weary from the ordeal, the relatives let the woman drop into the water. My colleague and her family have not gotten over that to this day.

A post that appeared here on August 12 says, in part:

In New Orleans, the infrastructure remains damaged. Nearly 60 percent of homes and business are still not receiving electricity or heating gas. Only three out of nine New Orleans hospitals have reopened. Only 56 of 128 public schools will enroll students this fall.

The city itself still has no master plan.

Those attempting to rebuild their homes have yet to be told how high they will have to raise them. And it's still unclear if the city's patched levees will hold back future floods.

Still, even in the worst-hit neighborhoods, where homes were ripped from their foundations and spit into the street, and where mattresses still lie impaled in the branches of trees, the rebirth is taking place.

As you say, Alina, it is easy to be drawn into others' despair. I would hope that health professionals assisting Katrina survivors will meet them where they are, address their pressing needs, and improve their quality of life.

Thanks for weighing in on this topic.

Deb S. said...

Here's a different take on the Katrina story from a sports angle.

Patricia Lieb said...

It is hard for me to imagine just how bad things still are for affected residence one year after Katrina. I visited a writer-friend, Dr. Glenn Swetman, and spoke at his Creative Writing class at William Carey College (classes are being held in trailers as the school is a disaster) Aug. 1. As one who has been in-and-out of that area for years, I was dismayed at the rubble everywhere. I just shook my head sadly. Glenn, who had driven over to New Orleans the week prior, just looked at me and said, "New Orleans is much worse." And we were just talking about material things here.

defiant goddess said...

This reminds me of something my mother told me recently:

You'd be amazed what you can do when you have to.

Alina said...

Yes, when something, anything, strikes, we tend to find it harder and harder to start over again. Unless there is someone to direct anger and everything against, we tend to keep feelings trapped inside and blame ourselves for not being superman or something like him.

When nature strikes, one does tend to leave with fear, as it can happen again, there is no one to blame (actually, ourselves for treating the planet as we did) and no guarantee it won't happen again. The exact same situation of Romanian areas affected by floods last year.

Deb S. said...

Patricia: I can only imagine what you and your friend have seen. Thanks for giving us a first-hand account.

Renee: Your mother was right!

Alina: Are you sure you don't have a second career as a social scientist?? Your comments are very perceptive and appreciated.