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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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