Mental health experts say such symptoms are more common in Louisiana since last year’s hurricanes – perhaps more than 260,000 people newly afflicted by anxiety disorder, depression and substance abuse, according to a recent state report. The increase in demand for services has overwhelmed emergency rooms and behavioral service providers.
In the New Orleans area, there are reported increases in drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, domestic violence and suicide, despite a sharp drop in population. City police officers – one in five was recently diagnosed with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder – say they are handling more calls involving mental patients who are “off their meds.”
And officials are worried about this storm season, which will probably bring more evacuations and disruptions of normal life even if there is not another hurricane.
“We are on the leading edge of an emotional and psychological tsunami that threatens the health and the recovery of our community,” said John King, executive director of the nonprofit Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
And New Orleans continues to be a dreary place, with thousands of abandoned cars and mounds of storm debris and garbage.
“The city is still pretty destroyed,” said Dr. Janet Johnson, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University. “I do think everyone in New Orleans has undergone significant stress and continues to. It’s difficult to live here. I am seeing depression just among family and friends and everyday people you run into.”
Local psychiatrist Deagan Dansereau put it this way: “Living in New Orleans right now is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
“These are normal people in our society,” Dr. Bertucci said. “But because of the loss of family, friends, jobs, homes, church and community, they are not able to cope.”
“The biggest problem is that people are running out of money,” he said. “The reality that it is going to take years instead of months to recover is beginning to set in.”