Spill’s Devastating Mental Health Toll Hits Particularly Hard in Baldwin County, Alabama; HALF of Residents Need Mental Health Assistance


How do you know the BP oil spill is having a devastating impact on mental health in the region? When you canvas approximately 500 Gulf area residents, and professionals determine roughly HALF need some form of professional mental health assistance.

That was the result of a Baldwin County, Alabama project that interviewed 494 residents. The county has implemented a BP-funded effort to assess its mental health crisis, and the initial reports represent a cry for help from Gulf residents. Our elected officials should be paying attention and should move swiftly to get people the assistance they need, sooner rather than later. Mental health issues that go untreated can lead to a host of other problems and criminal behavior, including increased alcohol consumption, domestic violence, drug abuse and suicide.

The Press-Register is reporting the story, citing Steve Picou, “… a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama who has examined the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska for more than 20 years, said after-effects of the spill could last two to five years given the uncertainty surrounding tourism prospects and future charter boat and shrimp seasons.”

Of course, we should note that the county’s “Project Rebound” that aims to spur recovery, includes an entire section for assisting people with their BP damage claims, which is not singled out but no doubt plays a huge role in the mental health picture.

In addition to keeping an eye on mental health trends, we should be tracking physical health issues as well. Sadly, you can bet there will be dramatic increases in problems on both fronts. We would be wise to remain vigilant.

Check out the Press-Register story here: http://blog.al.com/live/2010/11/oil_spill_leaving_depression_a.html

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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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