July 8th, 2010
05:11 PM ET
As a feature of CNNHealth.com, our team of expert doctors answers readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.
From Tinley Park, Illinois
"Can you address problems of depression and hopelessness of many unemployed workers in the Gulf? What is being done to help these people cope?"
We know the economy, work, and relationships can all cause a lot of stress. And in the Gulf region, work stress is high on the list of worries.
Mental stress is taking a toll on many people. Just about a month ago, I was here interviewing some of the fishermen's wives and they talked about the stress they're feeling. The water is a way of life, and it's how people here earn a living– families have relied upon working on the water for generations.
One Louisiana lawmaker wants BP's $20 billion liability fund to also pay mental health claims. In June, Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine requested $10 million from BP to provide mental health services to Louisiana residents affected by the oil spill. The request came after an Alabama fisherman committed suicide.
And several of the Gulf states - including Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida –have approached BP requesting funding for mental health services. BP says it is considering the request, but it has not yet committed to the funds. The current law and the BP claims process do NOT cover mental health services.
At the St. Bernard Project just outside New Orleans, the wait for people seeking mental health services has stretched from three to four weeks to more than seven weeks since the oil spill. Many clinicians are very concerned about the future.
At the St. Bernard Project they are teaching wellness classes to help people work on stress relief practices. According to Clinic Director Joycelyn Heintz-Gray, "It's best to focus on solutions. We can get the psychologists here to train and start peer-to-peer counseling out in St Bernard. Get the stress off the wives. So when the husbands come home they can vent to you and you'll be able to handle it because you're being trained to on how to do the stress relief practices."
Some of the stress relief practices that people learn include deep breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation for stress relief, and mindful eatin, which includes teaching people how to control their stress and knowing when they are stressed so they can sit down at the table and calmly eat at meal times, rather than overeating.
I spoke with Dr. Elmore Rigamer, medical director of New Orleans Catholic Charities, who is a psychiatrist. He stressed that it’s not uncommon for residents to feel stress from and that there is help available, saying, “If they have persistent negative thoughts, they just can’t get rid of them, there is a feeling that nothing will go right…if it’s spilling over into your family and you’re irritable, and you’re picking on your kids, or you’re arguing with your wife, usually it’s the husband who is the primary wage-earner in these communities and you’re just feeling down. I think that’s one thing. Certainly if you feel that life is not worth living, and its too hard to go on, and I have been through Katrina, and I had a setback in the recession, its still going on, and now I have got this, you should talk to us.”
One of the lessons learned from Alaska was the importance of community. Many strategies focus on preventing a corrosive community from developing. Outreach programs work to maintain relationships between families, and between neighbors as well.
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