NEW STUDY: Depression and Anxiety Grip the Gulf Coast in Wake of BP Spill


The day may come when we realize that the first human death pinned on the BP spill was from suicide, because evidence is piling up that the disaster and its aftermath have taken a grim toll on the region’s mental health.

The latest study gaining wide circulation is from the University of Maryland School of Medicine working with the University of Florida, Gainesville. The full findings are being published in the online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institutes of Health. The study found greatly increased anxiety and depression not only in areas directly impacted by the spill, but in other areas as well.

Lynn Grattan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, sheds some light on what we’re up against:

“We found that people living in communities with and without direct oil exposure had similar levels of psychological distress. People in both groups showed clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety. Also, where compared to people whose income was unaffected by the disaster, people with spill-related income loss in both groups had higher rates of depression, were less resilient and were more likely to cope using ‘behavioral disengagement,’ which involves just ‘giving up’ trying to deal the problem.”

The report notes that “The findings of these University of Maryland researchers may have important implications for planning public health response in similar situations, suggesting that a broader approach may needed…”

We can only expect this situation to get worse as BP continues to pack its bags, declare the beaches are clean when they’re not, deny and underpay victim claims and abandon many of these communities. There is an urgent need for BP to “make it right” by funding much more monitoring and longer-term treatment for mental health problems across the Gulf Coast.

When these serious psychological problems come home to roost, they will impact every state and local community institution that deals with social issues. And those groups are already maxed out.

We may one day see Allen “Rookie” Kruse, a 55-year-old Gulf resident and a charter boat captain of 26 years, as just the first of BP’s suicide victims.

See coverage of the University of Maryland report here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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