Katrina Survivors Help Meet the Gulf’s Post-Spill Mental Health Needs

Even as a cap on the leaking oil well seems closer each day, the Gulf Coast’s wildlife and economy have already experienced devastation. A community mental health center that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is establishing a satellite location to help the fishermen impacted by the BP oil spill. The center was profiled this week in the New York Times. It’s called the Center for Wellness and Mental Health, and it was established in St. Bernard Parish with the help of the Health Sciences Center at Louisiana State University.

At the center, a clinical social worker, two psychiatrists, and two psychologists provide therapy, outreach, focus groups, and training to help fishermen and their families learn how to deal with the struggles they’re suddenly facing. According to Jocelyn Heintz, whose home was rendered uninhabitable in Katrina and who now works as the center’s coordinator, part of the challenge is getting fishermen to admit they’re having trouble. As a whole, they have a reputation for being self-sufficient, but their families report increases in drinking, sleeping, and reclusiveness.

The three greatest struggles that the gulf’s fishing communities are dealing with, in terms of mental health, are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, three disorders that are each known to co-occur with the others. These are also three conditions that can become increasingly overwhelming for the person dealing with them. Getting treatment, especially in the form of therapy, is essential to keeping affected individuals in a safe state of mind. Especially when one’s surrounding environment is so uncertain, emotional instability is even scarier than it would be on its own. The Center for Wellness and Mental Health and its satellite location are trying to provide some stability by working with fishermen and family members to teach warning signs and coping strategies while cleanup crews and engineers work to assess the landscape.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • carly


    July 15th, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Having someone running that that truly understands what your family’s going through like Jocelyn is fantastic. I hope many take advantage of this service. The help is out there.

  • austin the X man

    austin the X man

    July 15th, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    everybody seems to be counting and measuring the damage due to the oil spill in terms of money and wildlife.but what they are forgetting is the value of a human life and a person’s mental health along with his physical health.

    they need to focus not only on containing the leak but also on the rehabilitation of the affected families because they must be in such a shock,to wake up one morning and realize that their livelihood,their property,everything is destroyed,gone,just like that!

  • Kyle


    July 15th, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    There’s nothing worse than listening to a person talk that’s never even come close to your experience and them telling you what you should have done or could. At that clinic you’ll have people that “get it” and a leading light in Jocelyn. Bless her, the families and her fellow workers.

  • luke


    July 16th, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    it is very nice to see that the survivors of one disaster are actually helping others when there is a new disaster…speaks volumes of the human relationship and what it can do to solve the various problems we have in our world.

  • nikki1348


    July 16th, 2010 at 4:18 AM

    maybe hearing from others who have been through similar situations will encourage those who may be the most hesitant about seeking care to realize that it is ok to ask for help and that it will better for them once they do

  • Star


    July 16th, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    I believe devastating life experiences can be lessons that draw us closer to our true destiny. For Jocelyn, going through Katrina could have been necessary for her to answer her true calling, which is what she’s doing today. If she hadn’t she could still be working in that utility company. You can tell her heart’s in this.

  • Lucy


    July 16th, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    It must be so hard for the wives to be walking on eggshells all the time. My own family went through redundancy and while I know that’s not nearly the same, I can understand what it’s like to worry when there’s no work in sight, the bills are piling up and to watch your husband withdraw into himself. You want to broach the subject to let them get it off their chest but whenever you try they think you’re getting at them because they haven’t found work.

  • Peter K.

    Peter K.

    July 16th, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    To think that generations of traditional family fishing businesses have come to such an abrupt halt and through no fault of their own. It’s despicable. I hope that’s taken into account too where the compensation is finally calculated. BP didn’t just take away one man’s livelihood. They took that from his children and his children’s children.

  • Wilma


    July 18th, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    Husbands are really thinking like that, Lucy? Oh no! That’s a shame. Husbands, please note your wives aren’t getting at you. They know you can’t work. They love you and want to help you. They don’t want you to bottle your feelings all up inside. They’re just as worried as you but they don’t blame you in any way. Meet them halfway and talk about your worries and how you’re feeling. You’ll both feel better for doing so. It may not change anything, sure but it keeps the communication lines open and that’s so important for couples in times of crisis.

  • Pat


    July 19th, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    It would be good if there was a similar set up for financial advice and help as well. So much of the pressure that’s bearing down on the fisherman and their families is related to financial worries. Where’s the help for them there? I know they are getting some checks but how long will that last? It’s the uncertainty that’s crippling them mentally.

  • Natalie


    July 21st, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once said: I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

    Are you listening, BP? Are you? Shame on you for allowing this avoidable incident to occur.

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