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.