Monday, May 14, 2007

Post-Traumatic-Stress in Post-Katrina New Orleans

A very good friend of mine from the BBC sent me an email this morning. In it is details of a paper “Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Hurricane Katrina” by Lisa D. Mills MD and Trevor J. Mills MD. This paper will be presented at the 2007 SAEM ( Society for Academic Emergency Medicine) Annual Meeting, May 16-19, 2007, Chicago, IL on Friday, May 18th, in the Psychiatry poster session beginning at 9:00 AM in the River Exhibition Hall A & B of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

This paper is to report that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is ten times the national average in New Orleans. 38% of people who have visited the Emergency rooms in New Orleans exhibit signs of PTSD compared with 3.6% for the national average. Dr. Peter DeBlieux, MD,
Director of Emergency Services at Louisiana State University in New Orleans was asked about this study and commented:
“The incidence of PTSD in our population post-Katrina reported in this research study is noteworthy and worth following as recovery efforts move forward. The prevalence cited in this study is not alarming to those professionals caring for patients who have been traumatized by the storm and challenged by the recovery efforts.”

This should come as "news" to no one. Katrina turned this city into a war zone and most people involved in war suffer PTSD. Big parts of this city still look like a war zone. I drive up Louisiana Avenue to Clairborne to get onto I-10 and every time I do I look at the huge housing project on the right hand side. It is empty and abandoned after Katrina. The windows are cracked, the roof starting to crumble and it is quite eerie. It always reminds me of photos of war torn Germany during the 1940s. That's what Katrina did. She left big swathes of this city war torn.

I don't know if this paper will include this - although I hope it does - but I look at that housing project and the size of it and its emptiness and I wonder where all those people ended up. The PTSD in this city is 38% but what about all those other souls spread throughout the US? They surely also have PTSD. But being the poorest in society are they getting adequate care? Being the poorest in society they were the ones who didn't leave. They are the ones that really experienced the war zone and all its wrath.

The magnitude of loss here is staggering. It is present on a continuum from the smallest possession to loss of a loved one. As part of the story in my friend's email stated:
"The magnitude and duration of even a single mental health care diagnosis after this disaster demonstrates the need for long term, coordinated mental health response as part of disaster relief. Interim or temporary mental health response is not adequate for this population."

The scars from this disaster run deep. The rate of suicide is up. The number of people who are dying from stress is up. This city needs to be rebuilt but not just physically. Souls are hurt and they should be cared for and helped to heal as best they can.


celcus said...

Yet in the midst of all of that we read:

"But Katrina's survivors are hopeful about the future and see tangible steps toward recovery. And most believe they have been left better able to handle stress."

I have no doubt that both realities are completely true.

"IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair"

If ever that applied to a place and time, it is New Orleans, right now.

Cursed Tea said...

Thank you so much for this one Celcus.
It does feel like New Orleans is a mish mash of everything right now.

I'm sure you've been getting the NOLA blogger emails too - sounds like some are trying to provide mental health services and others need them but connecting the two is proving challenging. Sounds like NOLA could do with a good dose of communication!!

Best Wishes

Tim said...

It's a given that in times of trial, there are heros. If not for the trials, how would we know there were heros? Kinda explains itself. Nature brings out the best and the worst.

And I say that's what makes humanity so special. It hurts us when we see our fellow humans suffer. It hurts us when we see other animals suffer. We rise above the "dog eat dog" rules of the jungle and impose our humanity--our morals and our virutes--on the wild world.

In the animal kingdom, creatures that suffer PTSD get naturally selected out of existence. We try not to let that happen to our fellow humans, or at least we should.

I credit my blog and the support of loving family for keeping me on the daylight side of sanity. I think we are all fortunate to have the Internet at this difficult time to allow the connection and dialogue that helps stave the PTSD. For some of us, anyway.


Brian said...

I just wanted to let you know that I currently work for the 'Tavis Smiley' show on PBS. Starting Monday May 28, there will be a five part series on 'Tavis Smiley' called "Right to Return: New Home Moview from the Lower 9th Ward." The documentary is directed and produced by Jonathan Demme, who you might now from movies like "Silence Of The Lambs'" and "Beloved." Each night Tavis Smiley and Jonathan Demme will bring you the story of people from New Orleans and their struggles of rebuilding their lives in New Orleans. For more information and show times please go to

Thank you,