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Hurricane Katrina 5th Anniversary: Mental Health Crisis; NAMI Responds to Kaiser Foundation Survey and USA Today Story

August 25, 2010

Arlington, Va.--On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is commenting on a Kaiser Family Foundation’s survey of  New Orleans residents as they continue to rebuild from the storm—and a study on the impact on children reported this week in USA Today.

In the Kaiser survey, New Orleans residents are sharply split on whether the city has seen improvements in medical care and affordable housing, which are especially critical for people living with mental illness. USA Today  also reports this week that a study published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness has found that children displaced by Hurricane Katrina are five times more likely to have severe emotional disturbances. The problem is compounded by lack of stable housing.

"New Orleans is a bell weather," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "Deep structural problems exist for mental health services and housing throughout the region."

"The BP oil spill and the national economic crisis are factors that need to be added to the equation. The total impact is a mental health disaster."

In June, an Institute of Medicine meeting in New Orleans identified mental health as a top priority resulting from the oil spill.

In Louisiana alone, approximately 183,000 adults live with serious mental illness, but less than 20 percent receive state mental health services. Approximately 49,000 children and adolescent have serious mental health conditions.

The Kaiser survey findings include:

  • Forty-nine percent of New Orleans residents see improvement in availability of medical services and facilities, but an equal share say there has been little or no progress.
  • Fifty percent see progress in availability of affordable housing, while 45 percent see little or none.
  • Twenty-five percent of residents say emergency rooms are their usual place for health care.
  • Seven in 10 believe most Americans have forgotten them

"Americans must not forget challenges in the Gulf region." Fitzpatrick said.  "Mental illness does not discriminate. It can strike anyone at anytime. As a nation, we need to help each other."

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI has over 1100 state and local affiliates that engage in research, education, support and advocacy.

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