July 8th, 2010
05:11 PM ET

What is being done to alleviate stress in the Gulf?

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.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Nancy

    Of course those children have a right to see their mom and (as importantly) Abbie has a right to see her children. Her husband is simply being selfish either because he hasn't come to terms with the tragedy or because he's moved on?! I think it is a travesty to rob this woman of seeing her children. You CANNOT ever underestimate the power of the bond between a mother and her children and have no idea what it really means until you've experienced it. As well, these children deserve to know their mother and love her for who she is. If this is handled properly these children will be absolutely fine and they will grow to be loving, giving, empathetic individuals. If kept from their mother, who knows what their minds will conjure up as to why she is absent from their lives!

    July 8, 2010 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sofia

    Mother should see her children and children should see their mother. It will be healthy for the kids to know who their mother is. When the kids will grow up, they will hate their father for not letting them to be bound with the mother. It absolutely wrong what the father is doing. He has no heart and thinks about himself not kids.

    July 8, 2010 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. nolawaiter

    I'm a waiter in New Orleans and I have been losing sleep and my appetite. Among my peers there is way more drinking and pot smoking than is the norm for us down here.

    July 8, 2010 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Smith in Oregon

    It appears a great deal of effort to remove much of the concerns and stress on the Louisiana BP blown OIl gusher is to not be entirely truthful in disclosures and discovery regarding Health and Safety Issues.

    Not entirely truthful, what do I mean by that?

    Safe levels of toxins, poisons and carcinogens are dynamic, meaning they were often compared against levels by questionable scientists working for the Federal EPA some 30 years ago. The safe levels on the mere 500 out of some 10,000 compounds is at best 'archaic' out of date and largely missing many thousands of possibly dangerous compounds which are not 'specifically' being tested for.

    What is the difference between 'Safe' and 'Healthy'? There is not only a great difference between those two findings, that is the very point.

    There are levels of Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Titanium and dozens of pesticides in ALL seafood. IF federal EPA scientists tested just those known toxic, poisonous and carcinogenic compounds alone and 'truthfully' found the levels of those poisons were 'lower' than the levels deemed 'unsafe' they would declare that seafood 'Safe'.

    Ok, so 'safe' doesn't mean healthy then? YES!

    There is NO level of consuming Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Titanium and dozens of pesticides that is 'Healthy'. Some damage to YOU, or your spouse, wife, children is going to occur as your body attempts to repair the damage. Some poisons like Mercury and Lead collect in the body, making repeated exposure a distinct Health Problem and Concern.

    What is 'Healthy' is not the same as a Governmental Agency declaring something is 'Safe'. And 'Safe' entirely depends on what those scientists actually looked for VS what those scientists either didn't look for. The ever changing standards of what a safe level of those poisons and toxins are at that time could in months or years from now declare what they had previously deemed as 'safe' is thereafter deemed 'unsafe'.

    July 9, 2010 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Smith in Oregon

    Greetings Dr. Gupta! I've heard several reputable scientists that clearly state that a single Quart of Motor Oil can poison 250,000 Gallons of seawater to the point that no aquatic life can live in it.

    That would place aquatic life toxicity for 1 Gallon of Crude Oil enough to poison 1 Million Gallons of Seawater to the point that 1 Million Gallons would not support sea life.

    Dr. Gupta, the US Navy knows the actual spec's on the very small amount of Motor Oil it takes to completely foul the entire ship's fresh drinking water supply. If I recall, it is a very small amount.

    Could CNN look into the exact figures? I believe the CNN audience would be amazed by how toxic Oil is when even a tiny amount is dumped into the water on aquatic life and on drinking water.

    July 11, 2010 at 00:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Moshe Sharon

    The word “Stress” actually relates to wear and tear as when the rubber meets the road on a tire or the brake pads pressing up against the rotor in the wheel. The term as it applies to living organisms was first introduced by Hans Seyle in the 1930’s who defined it as the consequence of the failure of an organism (human or animal) to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats, whether actual or imagined. Thus stress symptoms are the manifestation of a chronic state of responses to stress triggers that are actually benign. Even a thought can set off the same response mechanism that would be in play while standing in front of a hungry lion. Hence, Seyle’s definition still reaches to the heart of stress management; the idea of the response being inappropriate and engaging in a process of altering ones misperception of pending disaster or imminent danger.

    March 11, 2011 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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