Mental Health Summit Assists Hurricane Survivors In South Mississippi

Representatives with the Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force know something significant happens about 20 months after a disaster.

"At about this point, mental health needs peak," says Roberta Avila, Executive Director of the Interfaith Disaster Task Force.

They've already seen it in the wide variety of non-profit and faith based agencies the task force supports. That's why they've convened a two day Mental Health Summit, to rearm South Mississippi's counselors, case managers and care givers with the weapons they need to help residents in crisis cope.

"We have pastors and ministers and we have mental health professionals," says Avila. "People in the mental health field who are coming to receive continuing education hours and coming to learn best practices in working with survivors of Katrina."

One of those professionals is Columbia University professor Dr. David Abramson who directed a study of households in the hurricane zone.

"What was most troubling was the mental health aspect," says Abramson, who is also director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. "Seeing how many parents and caregivers were really suffering from mental health disability and distress.

And those symptoms are passed on to children.

"As many as 40 to 50 percent of the kids had these problems."

And having another hurricane season on the horizon, says Boston College professor of counseling Dr. Anderson J. Franklin, only makes matters worst.

"You start thinking about that," says Franklin. "And so it triggers reliving the past."

Dr. Abramsom's study also found that about half of the adults surveyed could be diagnosed as depressed. That's seven times the national rate.

One encouraging note: more than 70 percent of families say they would benefit from one on one counseling, which is available.