Sunday, June 24, 2007


THE SITUATION: The New Orleans mental health infrastructure is in crisis, due to a surge in PTSD and other mental health issues following the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States and the largest Psychiatric/Behavioural Health Hospital Tulane-DePaul, remains closed. In the midst of this region-wide crisis, it seems that there is a grass-roots effort in a socially upscale neighborhood surrounding the Tulane-DePaul behavioral hospital, to keep the hospital closed.

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

Within a week I have watched as more and more signs are boldly put on lawns in this wealthy neighborhood. I think to myself as I photograph their beautiful homes with the "NO" signs on them "It doesn't seem to matter to this group of people that the hospital has served this community for over a hundred years or that thousands in the city are in crisis.
"NIMBY" syndrome seems to be spreading regardless.

PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Whatever the source of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day. They may also experience sleep problems, depression, feeling detached or numb, or being easily startled. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate. They may feel irritable, more aggressive than before, or even violent:

Seeing things that remind them of the incident may be very distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the event are often very difficult."

PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood. The disorder can be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. Symptoms may be mild or severe--people may become easily irritated or have violent outbursts. In severe cases they may have trouble working or socializing. Symptoms - Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

They report ongoing mental health stresses among all levels of the population, severe fatigue setting in among caregivers, a health care system that continues to be ignored by politicians in Baton Rouge and Washington—all resulting in a city that is demonstrating widespread mental and emotional disorders similar to PTSD and a variety of complicating physical issues.

In short: New Orleans is getting sicker, fast.

African-American ministers, accustomed to providing spiritual guidance to their congregations, are helping members cope with serious mental and emotional disorders nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina hit.

"It is, at times, overwhelming," said Rev. Larry Campbell, assistant pastor of Israelite Baptist Church in the Central City neighborhood. He has counseled worshipers with substance abuse problems and suicidal thoughts, referring some to mental health professionals, when possible.

"There's a sense of hopelessness as it relates to, 'When are we going to get this city back to where it was?"'

New Orleans was a social service nightmare before Katrina. It's mental health infrastructure was likely underfunded like many other inner city services. But the results of the devastating trauma of Katrina spawned flood, people are stressed beyond their ability to cope. Psychiatric beds have shrunk by 80% while many professionals have abandoned the city along with half it it's residents.

It's often those without alternatives who are left to return, to conditions worse than they ever were.

…the most serious health problems directly attributable to the storm have been mental, not physical. In the four months between Aug. 29 and the end of 2005, the Orleans Parish coroner’s office “conservatively” estimates that the suicide rate tripled.”

"People with pre-existing conditions that are made worse by the stress of living here after the storm. "There is no doubt in my mind that Katrina is still killing our residents." Orleans Parish coroner Dr. Frank Minyard said this week.

"Old people who are just giving up."

"People who are killing themselves because they feel they can't go on.”

(After taking this picture I became aware of a man sleeping in this gutted out house.)

Mayor Ray Nagin.

‘Facing Crisis'
Frustration, despair, substance abuse, depression, suicide.

Due to a severe shortage in emergency room and hospital beds, some psychiatric patients in need of chronic mental health care are being housed in jails. Police officers and paramedics are also being forced to remain with psychiatric patients until beds become available.

Charity used to have nearly 100 psychiatric beds, in addition to a 40-bed crisis intervention unit where doctors could evaluate mental patients when police picked them up on the street. The Charity doctors knew many of the city's mentally ill by name and could take custody of them minutes after police brought them to the emergency room.

(Charity: De Paul-Tulane Hospital - "the neighbors view")

With that crisis intervention unit now closed, …officers have to escort mental patients to the emergency rooms at private and community hospitals… The police department is transporting about 185 to 200 mental patients per month. The department handled 207 psychiatric patients in March, the most ever in one month. Our police are spending an enormous amount of man hours baby-sitting mental health patients because of the inability to get them admitted to the hospitals.” Terry Ebbert, NOLA Homeland Security Director "

Today, the largest psychiatric ward in the region is at Orleans Parish Prison.

We're about to head full-force into the hurricane season, and invariably the country will spend a few moments revisiting the stricken Gulf Coast region, but particularly New Orleans. …We'll hear questions about levies, rebuilding and the city's economy."

What you're unlikely to hear about, though, is the mental health of the city's residents and the treatment crisis still brewing nearly two years after Katrina.

We face a tremendous challenge now with a greater need for inpatient and outpatient mental health services, an increase in the number of people suffering depression as a result of their loss, the devastation that surrounds them, and a deficit of 300 psychiatric hospital beds.

Perhaps it is no surprise that post-traumatic stress disorder is 10 times higher in New Orleans than in the general public.

…Interim or temporary mental health response is not adequate for this population.

Hurricane Katrina was the most significant natural disaster to strike the United States.

Thousands of people were exposed to destruction, human violence and desperate circumstances.

“The mental health situation in New Orleans remains atrocious."

Storm survivors are dying from the effects of both psychological and physical stress, ranging from the dust and mold still in dwellings to financial problems to fear of crime, health experts and officials say.

"We lost the whole mental health infrastructure in the storm.” "It was inadequate before. Then we lost the clinics, the hospitals, the staff and the administration.". Compounding the problem: More people are suffering from mental ailments.

"The city has seen a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress"


You may find upon the reading of these articles that some of them are nearly 2 years old - the information contained in them is not only prescient but relevant to the situation on the ground in New Orleans.


Churches battling post-Katrina depression

Nagin demands state provide mental health services

Post-Katrina report: Mental health system deficient in Louisiana PTSD Among New Orleans Residents

New Orleans still suffering from Katrina

Nurses Ask: Does New Orleans Suffer from PTSD? - Local nurses sound public health alarm on conditions in city’s hospitals and clinics, long-term effect on residents, caregivers

Sinking in New Orleans

A City in Crisis - Mental Health in New Orleans - DAILY KOS

Post-Katrina depression triples New Orleans suicide rate

Mental Health Crisis in New Orleans Worsens

New Orleans Mental Health Infrastructure Is Overwhelmed


Program aiming to fill health care worker shortage
Tuition-free training offered at Delgado


UPDATE August 15, 2007

"Leaping to his death from an ambulance, Jeremy Davis is the latest victim of our crippled mental health care system"

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