From Kenneth Feinberg, soon to be arbitrator of the $20 billion dollar fund during a congressional hearing on July 21st – “If you start compensating purely mental anguish without a physical injury — anxiety, stress — we’ll be getting millions of claims from people watching television…you have to draw the line somewhere. I think it would be highly unlikely that we would compensate mental damage, alleged damage, without a signature physical injury as well.”
Good to know, Kenneth.
But, have you seen the numbers?
They’re starting to roll in thick like another wave of non-existent oil…according to a survey by Ochsner Health System, a nonprofit, academic healthcare delivery group BP wasn’t able to purchase – three in every ten people surveyed currently experience “probable serious” to “probably mild-moderate” mental illness as a result of British Petroleum’s catastraphuk.
The numbers by state: Louisiana – 18%, Mississippi – 12%, Florida – 14% and Alabama – 10%
“To see so many people mired in psychological misery and in worse shape than they were after Katrina is disheartening,” said Dr. Joseph E. Bisordi, M.D., FACP, Ochsner’s chief medical officer. “This benchmark identifies the need for mental health services throughout the region. So that coastal residents can more quickly reclaim their lives, our region needs the immediate support of BP and the federal government to fund mental health resources. We cannot afford to delay any further.”
Oh, but delay, we will…because according to Feinberg, he will not handle state and local government claims, they will be handled by British Petroleum and as mentioned in previous posts…mental health care is not covered under the oil pollution act passed in 1990 by Congress. If British Petroleum pays for these services as part of the BP Catastraphuk cleanup, they will be setting new precedent, a case to be referred to by any community after any future oil spill, by any company. So on that note, cue up Patricia Wright, yet another British Petroleum spokesperson. She recently said in an email that the calls for funding for mental health services — which have also been submitted by Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — have been requests, rather than formal claims. She confirmed that the company has not yet responded to the requests.
Feinberg won’t pay…
British Petroleum continues to stall…
Back to Ocshner’s survey…
Those most at risk for serious mental health issues are the younger respondents and those who are financially vulnerable. People in the Gulf Coast making less than $25,000 annually are most at risk with 32% classified as having probable serious mental illness. Gulf Coast residents reported the most stress from money problems (34 percent) and work issues (19 percent), while relationship difficulties, substance abuse and missed appointments with mental health professionals added to their woes during the ongoing disaster.
Yep, things don’t look good for that Gulf Coast state of mind.
And though I would never underestimate the strength in this community – I understand and I believe residents of the Gulf Coast are survivors, sometimes by choice and sometimes because they had none – how much bullshit can a region have foisted upon their shores? Those of us in the mental health community often discuss how mental illness and physical illness are in fact only variables of the same thing…illness. If you put a person with a bad cold in a closed room with ten other people, not all of them are going to get a cold. Flood that same room with an oil spill and not all are going to get a mental illness either…but some will. It’s all the same, none of it healthy and later on down the road…many more are going to be suffering. Take for example the Exxon Valdez where public health officials discovered those impacted in Alaska suffered the effects up to four years later and that was a one time spill, not the gift that keeps on giving. So, resilient or not…if Kenneth Feinberg walks up to a resident of Venice, Louisiana and jabs his face with Rita and uppercuts him with Katrina, then sits back a while, waits for that individual to begin his recovery before getting a running, five-year start and kicks him square in the balls with a BP catstraphuk, well – guess what? Guy’s going to be hurting. And unlike Alaska, with the unprecedented use of dispersants in the Gulf those invisible oil slicks and tar-balls are going to be coming ashore for a decade according to most estimates. The Gulf Coast can look forward to Feinberg giving them a few elbows in the ribs for years to come.
Any way you look at it, it all adds up to need.
An article in Slate had this to say –
Without an organized, community wide intervention strategy to deal with the stress, it took several years for the area to recover. By many estimates, it still hasn’t. Most affected were the surrounding communities that relied on commercial fishing, including Valdez and Cordova. According to research conducted by environmental sociologist J. Steven Picou and others, divorces and suicides increased, as well as depression and anxiety (20 percent of fishermen suffered from severe anxiety and 40 percent from severe depression)…the average fisherman has lost a significant percentage of his income since the spill. We can expect the same effects now with the 2010 spill, only on a much larger scale.
So what are those in the community, those on the front lines, those that are doing the outreach, going into the communities and trying to help saying about all of this disregard – Catholic Charities applied for a separate grant from BP to do their work, $12 million dollars that would have included their outreach and the outreach of 27 other non-profit agencies in the region. As of this past Friday, they haven’t heard a thing from British Petroleum. Liz McCartney, the co-founder of St. Bernard Project, cannot understand the nonsensical approach BP has towards this funding, “It’s such a quick win,” she says. “It’s such an easy way for BP to demonstrate to people that they care not only about fixing the environment and making sure wildlife is taken care of but that people matter.”
No, BP doesn’t care about people. They didn’t long before April 20th and they don’t now.
But what about Obama and Congress?
At the same congressional hearing on July 21st, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D- Texas, pointedly asked Feinberg if he would cover damages such as mental health if Congress passed a law requiring it.
Feinberg replied that he would.
There you go, we all know what’s coming. We all know, saw it in Alaska and saw it during Katrina…the increasing use of substances, the increased depression, stress, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, anger and domestic violence. There is no mystery here. There are no what if’s? The numbers have started to come in already and with the recession causing annual mental health funding cuts in all the Gulf Coast States, services were already in short supply. Feinberg told Congress what had to happen, what needed to be done before the Grinch would return Christmas, so Congress – do it now. More numbers will be coming in over the next few months, next few years, and the need will only continue to grow. Perhaps this could finally be the time that the numbers also reflect how the right thing was done and demand was met.
Get started, you jack-wagons, pass a law and call Feinberg’s bluff. What choice do you have? If there is one thing learned over the past few months, British Petroleum ain’t listening to a thing you have to say, so maybe Feinberg will.
One more time…also from Slate –
“The oil spill in the Gulf carries with it a very significant risk of PTSD and major depression, as well as other psychiatric disorders,” says psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, author of Living the Truth. “The Exxon Valdez spill was a one-time shock, and that alone caused tremendous suffering on a psychological level. I fear that this event, with its protracted course, could prove far more toxic.”
So get going.
Have a nice day.
For current resources in the Gulf, click the link by SAMHSA
Or if in Louisiana, call the following hotline:
1-800-424-1856, 8am-5pm CST weekdays