Saturday, April 21, 2012

Deepwater Horizon damaged psyches, too

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For the headlines on how the spill affected all three aspects of sustainability, environment, economy, and society, PBS Newshour has the following video summary.

Two years after the largest oil leak in U.S. history, the Gulf of Mexico region still struggles with its impact. Jeffrey Brown, David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Garret Graves of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana discuss the state of the Gulf and related industries.
That video does a superb job of following up on the better known types of long-term damage, but it forgot one--the damage to people's mental states. Here's an article from the American Psychological Association that orginally appeared in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Japanese earthquake and daylight savings edition) in Daily Kos and which I've been saving for just this occasion.

The oil spill's reverberations
The Mississippi coast has begun recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but what about the people whose lives were changed as a result of the disaster? A team of graduate students investigates.
By Kirsten Weir
Nearly two years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf Coast, the effects of the disaster still linger. The accident on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the next three months. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The environmental devastation grabbed most of the headlines, but the human impact was just as significant. Millions of Gulf Coast residents were affected by the disaster. Rig workers found themselves unemployed, and the fishing and tourism industries — both major contributors to the Gulf Coast economy — suffered huge hits. As of December 2011, BP had paid more than $21 billion in cleanup costs and economic damages. Yet a report by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the spill could cost the coastal region $22.7 billion over three years in lost tourism alone.

"Yes, it's an environmental disaster, but it really affects people's lives financially," says Scott Sumrall, director of disaster preparedness and response with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

Along with that financial devastation came depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the mental health effects, BP provided $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Oil Spill Recovery–Behavioral Health Grant Program for outreach, training and clinical services. Most of the grants went directly to mental health centers and other groups that provide direct care to people on the coast. But $285,000 of that funding, over a two-year period, also went to Stefan Schulenberg, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, and a team of graduate students who have been charged with assessing how well the program is meeting the mental health needs of people on the Mississippi coast.
Read the rest of the article for the results of that research. It's amazing what the social costs have been.

Today's song is another ironic choice, Black Water by The Doobie Brothers (lyrics here). Mississippi and black water take on new meaning in the context of the Deepwater Horizon distaster.

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