Oil threat creates mental health concerns - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Oil threat creates mental health concerns

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - The oil spill is not only harming the environment and disrupting the economy, it is also taking an emotional toll.

The ongoing disaster is creating stress, anxiety and depression.

The images  from the oil spill are constant, sometimes overwhelming, even disturbing. News coverage about the oil dominates other stories and hits home every night.

Oil and the news coverage of the crisis, are hitting our shore as many folks are still struggling with Katrina recovery.

"The problem you have with an oil spill, unlike Katrina when you're knocked down with the punch, this is a disaster in stages. So, it's kind of anticipatory anxiety about what's going to happen and what is the final impact going to be and how long's this going to last. When are they going to cap that darn thing?" said Jeff Bennett, director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center.

Fishermen are especially hard hit.  But they are also less likely to seek mental health counseling.

"You're not going to have a Biloxi fisherman say they're depressed. They're going to deal with that depression in some other way," said Bennett.

Bennett says that "other way" often involves substance abuse. He expects a lot of stressed out fishermen and others will self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.

He also expects an increase in domestic violence.

"They're used to being out on the boats and gone for weeks at a time. They're thrown together. They're already irritable. And the slightest spark is going to create some problems," said Bennett.

"What can we do to get beyond ourselves and help somebody else? One of the best ways is to get outward and to begin serving," says Nelson Roth.

Roth founded a ministry that helped churches and individuals in the wake of Katrina. He says there are lessons to be learned from the Exxon Valdez.

"As this wore on people it actually tore communities apart. It tore families apart. So really what we need, and I think this is a practical point for everyone, is who do you have to come alongside to be an encouragement to you? The importance of community," he said.

Roth says after individuals seek help for themselves, they must reach out to others.

"As we find our niche and work together, we're going to get through this thing," said Roth, who wrote a book about dealing with crisis. The book is called "The Nehemiah Response".

Gulf Coast Mental Health Center is working with Catholic Social Services on a program designed to reach out to fishermen who may need counseling.

The "peer listening" program will train people within the community to find those fishermen who may need help and direct them to the appropriate resources.

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