Mental Health Services Needed In Response to Hurricane Gustav

Mental health services will be an important part of the response to Hurricane Gustav. Government agencies like FEMA, non-governmental organizations including the Red Cross and area hospitals, and cadres of volunteers from nearly all 50 states are preparing to intervene. More than three million people throughout the Gulf states are estimated to be affected by the storm.

Red Cross representative Joe Becker told local media that the Red Cross is “focusing very hard on our mental health preparations” and also on “deploying large numbers of our mental health professionals to help these people.”

“We want to be there for people who have already seen what awful looks like,” said Becker.

Trauma, especially when it is especially intense and not relieved quickly, can lead to a wide variety of dysphoric feelings and experiences. These include intense anxiety, depression, delerium, and even quasi-manic states where reality testing and judgment are severely impaired. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 31, 2005, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. The city has yet to fully recover, and many residents never returned.

Many of those who remain in New Orleans three years later have had to face tremendous hardship and loss.  New Orleans residents are still dealing with the deaths of friends and family, destroyed homes and businesses, and a paucity of government services. Over the past year, New Orleans has achieved some sense of normalcy. Even so, the memories of Katrina are fresh and the new storm has been taken very seriously.

Other towns, less well-known, face similar problems but have fewer resources. Some were destroyed during Katrina. Others have been essentially abandoned. Mental health professionals with crisis intervention experience are especially needed. Interested persons should contact the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • Bethany

    September 5th, 2008 at 3:13 AM

    Thank you for this article. I have family in southern Louisiana who have just barely recovered from Katrina and now since Gustav they are facing water shortages, looting, and the prospect of no electricity for a month. It is like deja vu for them, and it is heartwrenching to hear from them and hear how desperate they are for contact and news from the outside world.

  • Caroline

    September 8th, 2008 at 6:47 AM

    Sorry to hear that Bethany. Unfortunately things are only slated to get worse for the people of Lousiana as Ike looks to be headed in the same general direction.

  • Hannah

    September 9th, 2008 at 1:27 AM

    I have to wonder sometimes about communities such as these which are often in the line of fire when it comes to dangerous storms like this that do not have ready programs in place to help their victims in the community. They know that chances are they will need these services at some point in time yet many of them never seem prepared. Do you think it is still a continuing disrespect for the mental health community which perpetuates this cycle? Seems we would have all learned our lesson by now.

  • Daniel Brezenoff

    September 9th, 2008 at 7:16 AM

    Hannah, I’m not sure how they could better prepare. There is a big spike in demand for services when a hurricane hits, but the rest of the year their need is presumably not significantly different from any other region. So what can they do? They cannot keep social workers and MFT’s employed all year in the context of lower demand just so they are ready for hurricanes one month out of twelve, can they?

    This is why they always ask for out-of-state assistance. And in fact, this year, they put out the call quite early, so hopefully things went more smoothly than in 2005, when I think very few officials understood how much need there would be.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Karen

    September 13th, 2008 at 3:07 PM

    Sure there could be better preparation. It is not as if mental health professionals would be sitting idly and twiddling their thumbs the rest of the year. In my opinion it is not just at times of extreme crisis that communities need better mental health professionals. I understand your argument and realize that there will not always be a need for so many but clearly there are services which all communities need all throughout the year.

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