Oil spill still impacting mental health

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off a massive gusher of oil into the Gulf came at an especially tough time for coast residents.

"We surveyed almost 1,000 people and this oil spill had some impact on almost everyone without exception, either exclusively or as a combination with Katrina and the economy," Gulf Coast Mental Health Center Director Jeff Bennett said.

Bennett said the $3 million they got from BP to use over two years, kept them afloat during a busy time allowing them to better serve those who couldn't afford to pay for services.

"They're not employed; they have no insurance, little income, haven't been paid by BP, and they come in here out of frustration, depression, anxiety or whatever it is, with no way to pay," Bennett said.

One area they saw a noticeable increase was in domestic problems. Bennett said people lost jobs and were moving in with family members because they couldn't pay their rent.

"A day or two of that is okay, but weeks and weeks can create domestic problems," Bennett said. "And we saw quite a bit of that."

There was also an increase in substance abuse with people self medicating using drugs and alcohol to help them cope with the disaster.

"People in the seafood industry are historically macho types and don't seek mental health services; they take care of it themselves."

Despite the need for more mental health care after the spill Bennett said the coast showed its resilience once again.

"A word used throughout Katrina and the oil spill is resilience," Bennett said. "We are a resilient lot and somehow we figure out how to make the best of a bad situation."

But he said the struggle continues a year later.

"One of the factors that leads to mental health upset is uncertainty, and that's what you have with an oil spill. We don't know yet what the environmental impact will be completely."

Bennett said that uncertainty will continue to keep people concerned and somewhat on edge for some time to come.

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