In her “Depression On My Mind” blog at PsychCentral.com, writer Christine Stapleton draws attention to the mental health consequences of the BP Gulf Coast oil leak. There are several issues at play here. With any large-scale environmental and economic disaster, people in immediately impacted communities are prone to depression, anxiety, and stress in the months (and years) following the disaster. And in the case of the BP oil leak, Stapleton points out, many of the communities impacted are those that have still not recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
But hurricanes and oil spills have different psychosocial impacts, says Stapleton, citing research by Steve Picou, a sociologist specializing in disasters. Picou’s work indicates that local and national responses to large disasters differ depending whether the disaster is natural or manmade. Natural disasters bring people together, he says, while manmade disasters do not. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, local communities came together to support one another; and the earthquake in Haiti elicited immediate international response, including massive high-profile fundraising efforts. But the BP oil leak (and past manmade disasters like Exxon Valdez) see a lot more blame, finger pointing, and mistrust—and little if any fundraising to help the victims, since that’s seen as the company’s obligation.
So in terms of mental health, says Stapleton, the BP disaster is problematic in three ways. Firstly, it creates all of the depression, anxiety, and stress that come with any disaster. Secondly, because it’s manmade, there is no reaction of “therapeutic community” to provide a sense of being in it together. And finally, there is no financial support for treatment of mental health fallout. Financially, BP is liable for cleanup, financial losses, property damage, and damage to natural resources, but it doesn’t have any obligation to cover “bodily injury,” which includes mental health. So people who are hardest hit by the disaster will be compensated financially, but given no financial support to seek therapy and counseling for dealing with the disaster’s consequences.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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