What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mental-health and housing issues inextricably linked since Katrina.

McClatchy Newspaper

A study on post-Katrina mental health that focused on families in FEMA trailers said that suicide attempts in FEMA trailer parks were 79 times the national average.

“If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” — Gaston Bachelard, French philosopher, 1884-1962
BILOXI, Miss. | For thousands of families still living in FEMA trailers, their place to dream in peace was washed away more than two years ago and has yet to return.

The mental toll of a lack of permanent housing is indescribably great. FEMA trailer parks are therefore the epicenter of any post-Katrina mental-health crisis.

“It feels like my insides are coming out,” said Mattie Martin, a resident of a FEMA trailer park near the beach in Gulfport, Miss.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had sent letters to residents of that park in the second week of October saying that they would have to be moved by the end of the month, and that FEMA workers could be coming any day to move them. The letter was vague on when and where they would be moved.

The stress of moving again, of not knowing when or how they would get permanent housing, was taking its toll on nearly everyone. That is saying nothing of the fact that they were storm survivors living in flimsy trailers that rocked in thunderstorms and high winds.

“I’m 60 years old. I don’t need to be going through this,” Martin said. “I don’t relax. It does make me forget sometimes. I know I’d just be glad to be settled.”

There have been a few studies on post-Katrina mental health that focused on families in FEMA trailers, and all of their findings were devastatingly bad.

Among the most shocking, from International Medical Corps, was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine in the spring. It stated that suicide attempts in FEMA trailer parks were 79 times the national average.

Michael Hall, outreach coordinator for Memorial Hospital Behavioral Health in Gulfport, said mental-health and housing issues were inextricably linked since Katrina.

“They kind of feed on one another,” Hall said: A lack of good mental health makes it harder to maintain a house and a job, and a lack of a job and a house makes it harder to maintain good mental health.

Most of the people who Hall sees who were adversely affected mentally by the storm are of a lower socioeconomic status. The wealthier coast population was able to move somewhere permanently or fix damaged homes relatively quickly. Most, if not all, of the wealthier population’s normal mental-health buffers, the checks on normalcy, are already back in place.

Hall and other mental-health professionals on the coast repeatedly stress that it is impossible to gauge the exact degree of any post-Katrina mental-health crisis, and add that most people possess a profound natural ability to endure through all kinds of stress.

However, no Gulf Coast mental-health professional has said the affordable-housing crisis is making any mental-health crisis better.

| The Associated Press | McClatchy Newspapers © 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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