THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL SUNDAY, October 9, 2005
Storm’s wounds — Katrina evacuees get treatment for physical, emotional damage — Healing for some may be years away,professionals say
By Mary Powers email@example.com
Even when she feared she and her family would be killed by Hurricane Katrina or its chaotic aftermath, the New Orleans native didn’t cry. But two weeks after Laura Dauterive fled the city with her teenage sons and elderly father, her nails were bitten to the quick and her blood pressure was so high the nurse practitioner wouldn’t let her leave the mobile health van until it dropped. “I’ve been very emotional,” Dauterive explained. “I’ve been worried about a lot of things.”
As Mid-South shelters empty and hurricane cleanup continues along the Gulf Coast, mental health professionals warn that for some touched by the storm, healing is still weeks, months or even years away. Most will benefit from a sympathetic ear, help in establishing a new routine and reassurance that their feelings are a normal response to an abnormal situation. But experience from Hurricane Andrew found a year later about 30 percent of adults exhibited moderate to severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For others, depression and anxiety will linger. A personal history of trauma or other mental health problems increases individual risk. Local mental health providers and at least one international group have mobilized to provide short-term support in hopes of reducing long-term problems. Volunteers have talked with more than 3,000 individuals at area shelters and disaster assistance centers. About 300 were referred to local community mental health centers. Most had been receiving mental health services before the storm, said Debra Dillon of Southeast Mental Health Center. Dillon is helping coordinate the local mental health response.
Volunteers are also starting to distribute fliers and brochures with information about trauma and stress symptoms, coping strategies and community resources. Dillon said the information is destined for hotels, grocery stores, physician offices and other locations likely to attract evacuees. The Real Medicine Foundation has been working in the Memphis Catholic schools, where more than 300 students displaced by the storm have enrolled.
The foundation was launched by a German pediatrician in response to her experiences working in Sri Lanka after last year’s tsunami. As part of the program, a dozen volunteer trauma specialists, including clinical psychologists and psychotherapists, were in Memphis meeting with parents, teachers, principals, school counselors and staff to develop strategies for supporting young people struggling in the storm’s wake. They’ve also worked with individual children.
The foundation expects its Memphis experience to serve as a model for future disaster response. “This is something that you can replicate and transfer,” explained Dr. Martina Fuchs, founder of the program based in Studio City, Calif. Dr. Neil Edwards of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center said in the weeks immediately after the trauma, individuals often benefit from short-term therapy. Some are also candidates for anti-anxiety medication. If symptoms continue or surface as PTSD months or years later, he said treatment includes antidepressants or talk therapy.
Help for those displaced is also coming from primary care providers like Brenda Evans, a family nurse practitioner. She was staffing the Baptist Memorial Health Care Operation Outreach medical van during a mid-September visit to the Mid-South Baptist Conference Center. It was temporary home to Dauterive, her sons, husband, in-laws and nine other relatives. They were among the displaced being housed in one of the Cordova facility’s 27 cabins. Evans’s patients arrived looking for tetanus shots and help with other medical needs, but her questions dug deeper. “I ask them: ‘Did you get out before the storm hit? What did you have to see?’ “ Evans explained. “You have to cry with them. Pray with them.” Dauterive, 44, told Evans that in the hurricane’s aftermath, she’d blown her diet and was smoking about half a pack of cigarettes a day. She left the medical van with prescriptions designed to lower her blood pressure, ease her chronic back pain and soothe her jangled nerves and stomach.
Recounting the hurricane, her middle-of-the-night flight from New Orleans in the back of a pickup and reunion with her husband in Jackson, Miss., Dauterive’s eyes filled with tears just once. They came as she recalled putting her 77-year-old father on a plane to Denver. He remains there in another daughter’s care. He was the reason Dauterive and her sons didn’t evacuate before the storm. She’d cared for him since his stroke 18 years ago. “He refused to leave (before the storm) and I would not leave my father,” she said. A few weeks later, Dauterive says her stress level has dropped considerably. The family has decided to stay in the Mid-South for at least the next year and is apartment-hunting. They’ve also started cleaning up their New Orleans home. “I’m looking forward to my new life. I’m very optimistic,” Dauterive said.
Dillon said most displaced by the storm will recover and avoid lingering psychological problems. Edwards said others need help coming to a resolution. “Awful things happen – wars happen, terrible things like Katrina happen – and you can’t ever find a good rationale for it,” he said. “You want to go on from there. “It is easier for some people than others.” – Mary Powers: 529-2383
Hurricane recovery involves more than simply replacing what’s been lost. Some will struggle with the emotional and psychological impact long after homes, cars and jobs have been replaced. Here’s what to expect and tips for coping:
ACUTE STRESS DISORDER
Strikes in the first days or weeks after a traumatic event that threatens life or safety. Symptoms include anxiety, difficulty sleeping and becoming hypervigilant. Common complaints are feeling detached, dazed or like the world isn’t real. Some may re-experience the event while others might be unable to recall it. Treatment: “The most important thing is to help the person understand it is not abnormal to feel this way and calm the waters as much as you can,” said Dr. Neil Edwards, a University of Tennessee Health Science Center professor of psychiatry. Some might also benefit from anti-anxiety medication. Children and adults benefit from routines.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
PTSD symptoms appear or continue months or even years after a traumatic event. Symptoms: anger, sleep problems, feeling detached or estranged, recurrent or intrusive recollections of the event, nightmares, flashbacks or avoidance.
Treatment: Medication, including anti-depressants, and talk therapy.
Source: Dr. Neil Edwards, UT Health Science Center professor
Crisis Counseling: To schedule an appointment for this free service, call 369-1480 during normal business hours.
Mental Health Centers: Patients receiving mental health services
before the storm who need to reconnect with medication and treatment
should call one of the community mental health centers:
Frayser Family Counseling, 353-5440
Case Management Inc., 821-5600
Midtown Mental Health Center, 577-0200
Southeast Mental Health Center, 369-1400
Southwest Mental Health Center, 774-7811
Memphis Crisis Center , 274-7477
Tennessee Voices for Children , a nonprofit focused on children’s mental health services, (800) 670-9882
Tennessee Access to Recovery , help for displaced storm victims who need substance abuse treatment, (866) 358-4287 or www2.state.tn.us/health/A&D/ATR.
“Awful things happen – wars happen, terrible things like Katrina happen – and you can’t ever find a good rationale for it. You want
to go on from there. It is easier for some people than others.” Neil Edwards
Doctor with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Caption Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Nurse practitioner Brenda Evans gives hurricane victim Laura Dauterive a checkup in Baptist’s mobile health unit. Dauterive, 44, told Evans that after the hurricane, she’d gone off her diet and was smoking about half a pack of cigarettes a day.
Copyright, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used with permission.
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