As our nation struggles with a response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we should remember that rather than a natural disaster, we are dealing with a human disaster. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which visited its deadly winds and waters upon the region, the oil spill is a human-made calamity, the worst intersection between industry and error our country has yet seen. Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, many still recovering from the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, are feeling the spill’s wounds deeply on a personal and collective level.
For the many needs that will be stressing families and individuals living with mental illness affected by the spill, NAMI has compiled a list of mental health, housing and other resources.
According to new estimates, the Gulf oil spill has surpassed the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989 as the most significant in U.S. history. The event is of particular importance to those already living with mental illness, who must now confront additional stressors that also burden the rest of their communities. For instance, some fishermen who have rebuilt their businesses since Katrina and Rita are experiencing suicidal feelings as the spill threatens their livelihood once again. Unlike a hurricane, which is a single incident with long-reaching implications, the oil spill is an ongoing problem with unknown effects. In the wake of a catastrophe of this magnitude, individuals are more likely to suffer from anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
The response to the Gulf oil spill is occurring on many levels—from mental health professionals to grassroots efforts by like local NAMI groups to individuals from affected communities. Mental health professionals are actively participating in the response to the Gulf oil spill. One theme has become clear: it is important to battle against isolation in the face of this disaster. Gulf Coast inhabitants are being encouraged to maintain their usual community ties such as church, social groups and community associations. Any opportunity to bring people together is vitally important—isolated individuals are at a far greater risk of being overwhelmed by depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety than those who have a good support system.
NAMI affiliates are a vital community resource for those dealing with the mental health aftermath of the oil spill—both people who already consider themselves to be part of the NAMI community and individuals and families who have just begun to confront mental illness. NAMI’s state offices and local affiliates provide support as well as information about community resources.
Please feel free to contact NAMI HelpLine at 1 (800) 950-6264 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.– 6 pm ET for further information or visit our website at www.nami.org.