Katrina Still Causing Mental Health Anguish

The significant storm damage to homes and buildings is relatively easy to assess and measure. But the emotional cost of dealing with those issues is still mounting.

A new survey shows Hurricane Katrina continues to take an enormous emotional toll on residents of the Gulf Coast.

"We see what we call 'recovery stress disorder.' Not necessarily folks who were impacted by the trauma of the storm itself, but the whole recovery process has been a problem," said the director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center.

Jeff Bennett says housing concerns are fueling a whole host of psychological problems, whether it's stress from living in a FEMA trailer park or ongoing worries about rebuilding a new home.

"That creates stress for families and children, which leads to substance abuse, people trying to self medicate with alcohol and drugs, illicit drugs, domestic violence, the whole range of problems associated with stress," he said.

Left untreated, such stress can easily lead to depression. Bennett says his facility is treating "significant amounts" of Katrina-related depression.

"Characterized by folks just being worn out. We call it a malignant malaise. Just tired of dealing with insurance companies, contractors, trying to find a place to live."

The survey is a follow up to one that was done six months after the storm. Of the 800 Gulf Coast residents surveyed, 25 percent say they're still having nightmares about their hurricane experience, while more than 20 percent are showing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

"Folks who did not traditionally seek mental health services are coming in, who in the past have been able to deal with these things, had the money to work through problems, those become issues for everybody now," said Bennett.

People who'd like more information about available mental health care services can phone Gulf Coast Mental Health Center at (228) 863-1132.