Monday, August 30, 2010

Bush policy still impacts mental health of New Orleans’ poor kids

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Over the weekend, in honor of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast, the media was filled with Happy Talk galore. Things are getting better in New Orleans! Lots of new people moving in! We’re looking up! Our schools are better now! And so forth and so on, each media outlet bending over backward to be super-positive, and shielding its eyes from any reminders of what happened in 2005.

I called an old friend — call him Stan — who has lived in New Orleans for 25 years, and asked him if he thought things were getting better, as the press keeps telling us. “Yeah, things overall are better,” Stan told me, “but look at what they’re 'better' than — a flooded city, water mixed with oil and sewage five feet deep in the streets, dead bodies floating by your gallery (what we mere Carolinians call a “porch”) ... yeah, it’s better than that.

“Really, I don’t want to sound all doom-and-gloom," Stan continued."There’s been some new investment in properties and infrastructure, and people who have lived here awhile and made it through Katrina are like the city's heroes now, and people in general are really proud of the city, even more than before. But there are still big, big areas where next to nothing has been done to help people recover. Yeah, the schools are better — but, like I said, they couldn’t have been much worse, so the new charter schools everybody's jumping to aren't any better than regular schools ought to be, but compared to what we had before, they’re like The Sorbonne or something. So, yeah, things are better, but the city's still hurting.  Lots of people have put lots of energy into the recovery, but the recession isn’t helping; plus even without the recession, there’s still way too much that still needs to be done. I mean, Katrina was five years ago, and they’ve worked on the levees, but they’re still not good enough to withstand the kind of water surge Katrina brought. That’s unbelievable, to me, and I wish the press would tell people about it.”

As if to confirm Stan’s comment that much remains to be done, a study was released last week that reveals, in detail, the awful psychological toll Katrina has had on children in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Researchers found that nearly 40 percent of kids displaced by the hurricane have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and/or behavioral disorders, and are five times more likely to have emotional disturbances than those who came through Katrina OK. Earlier studies also showed about a third of adult survivors reporting mental problems.

One of the main reasons so many Katrina survivors are suffering from mental problems five years later is that the Bush administration torpedoed a bipartisan congressional effort to pass a “Disaster Relief Medicaid” program, which would have extended Medicaid eligibility and allowed low-income residents to receive mental health diagnoses and treatments. The same sort of program was enacted after the 9/11 attacks, but Bush & Co. nixed that approach for the poor residents of the Gulf Coast (who, in case you’ve never been there, are numerous). Think Progress has produced a look at the study, and also examines in detail the way help via the Medicaid extension was killed by Bush, a process that can only be described as deliberate neglect.

As one of the researchers for the mental health study, Dr. Irwin Redlener, said, “From the perspective of the Gulf’s most vulnerable children and families, the recovery from Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans has been a dismal failure.” I guess that wasn’t a perspective the media wanted to hear as they reported on all the cool new investments being made. Or maybe it was one too many Hurricanes.

Kid in the post-Katrina ruins  (Photo courtesy Carolyn Cole)
  • Kid in the post-Katrina ruins  (Photo courtesy Carolyn Cole)

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