Ongoing BP oil spill causes mental health concerns among health professionals in Gulf Coast

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Louisiana health officials are warning of the possibility that the BP Gulf oil spill will have a negative impact on mental health in the region. A month ago, a number of Louisiana state agencies submitted a joint request that BP fund “mental health and substance abuse services (commonly known as behavioral health services) directly related to the adverse impact of the oil spill on Louisiana coastal residents and communities.” Since the initial May 28th request failed to generate approval, Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine has renewed the demand, requesting that $10 million be given to the State to ensure the mental sanity of Louisiana citizens.

In his letter to BP Chief Operating Officer, Doug Suttles, Levine writes, “Our teams of counselors imbedded in the impacted communities are now warning us of an emerging behavioral health crisis, and we therefore believe it is critical we reassert our request in an effort to be assertive in the provision of services. There exists anger, anxiety and uncertainty among the families and communities affected by the spill, which will easily manifest into addiction and various forms of mental health crisis if not confronted. Our Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling teams have already engaged and counseled almost 2,000 individuals in the affected areas, and are reporting palpable increases in anxiety, depression, stress, grief, excessive drinking, earlier drinking and suicide ideation.”

The $10 million will go toward funding Louisiana Spirit (a subdivision of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals – Office of Mental Health) outreach teams for an estimated six months. The state first implemented the program in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to combat the supposed mental health fallout from the disaster. Now, with the Gulf spill, Louisiana Spirit is back, this time to council oil victims.

Currently, grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) fund Louisiana Spirit, but some officials fear that the current budget will not be able to cover all of Louisiana’s victims. Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Louisiana Office of Mental Health, Dr. Anthony Speier, explained the troubles counselors and outreach members have seen while working in the community to The Daily Caller.

“We have been seeing an escalation of stress and symptoms,” he said. “People are starting to grieve over what they see as the end of their lifestyle and work. Realities are setting in and there is a definite threat of people moving from sad to hopeless.”

Dr. Speier said the purpose of Levine’s request to BP is to ensure that Louisiana Spirit can combat the disaster’s mental health effects before they get worse. “When working with technology disasters you have to deal with the impact early on in order to mitigate the effect,” he said.

Speier is optimistic that BP will respond favorably to their pleas.

“BP is being responsible and responsive with other aspects of the spill and we have little reason to believe they won’t be with this,” he said.

BP spokesman, Toby Odone, would not go into specifics but told The Daily Caller, “We are looking into how to deal with these issues.”

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