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The mental toil of oil

Fisherman As oil continues to seep into the Gulf of Mexico, psychological traumas caused by the catastrophe similarly seep into the minds of the residents, fishermen and shrimpers of the region. Judging by past environmental mishaps and anecdotal evidence gathered over the last few weeks, this oil scourge is more than just a disaster for the wildlife and beauty of the region -- it is also a prelude to a long line of damaging mental health effects for the people of the surrounding area.

In President Obama's June 15 speech addressing the spill, he boldly said, "We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."

If Obama is serious about his statements, then any recovery plan either the administration or BP comes up with must contain BP-funded psychological counseling for the residents, shrimpers and fishermen affected by the tragedy.

In the past, dramatic ecological disasters have usually been followed by a significant increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among residents and workers in the affected area. In a June 21 Times article, gulf shrimper Adam Trahan was quoted as saying, "I look out there and see my life ruined. ... I'm just walking around in a circle. ... I've never been this confused in my life."

The article goes on to note that after the tragic Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, Alaska saw an increase in "suicides, domestic violence, bankruptcies and alcoholism."

Examples of this can already be seen in the aftermath of the gulf spill: A Times article Thursday reports that William Allen Kruse, a 55-year-old fishing boat captain, apparently committed suicide this week.

"How can you deal with watching the oil kill every damn thing you ever lived for in your whole life?" charter captain Ty Fleming said of Kruse's death.

In his speech, Obama said, "The sadness and the anger that [the people affected by the spill] feel is not just about the money they've lost, it's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life might be lost. ... I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."

When setting aside funds, failing to address the psychological issues would simply be ignoring half the problem. Once the damage done to the gulf is subdued (however long that may take), who -- or what -- is going to repair the damage that same spill has done to the psyches of the fishermen, shrimpers and residents of the gulf? The damages their consciences have sustained could be just as long-lasting and severe as the damage suffered by the coast itself.

BP can buy sponges to soak up the oil that has tainted the waters of the Gulf Coast, but funding psychiatrists to soak up the trauma that has seeped into the minds of the shrimpers and fishermen whose lives have been radically altered by this disaster is equally important.

In "Toxic Turmoil: Psychological and Societal Consequences of Ecological Disasters," a book that offers an overview of research on the psychological and societal consequences of ecological disasters, among the mental consequences described are anxiety, hyper-vigilance and other post-traumatic stress reactions. If the fishermen and shrimpers become mentally crippled in the aftermath of the spill, how, without proper mental care and recuperation, can they be expected to jump back into work once the gulf has been cleaned? The trauma would still be rocking their boat -- and not in a good way.

Even if the oil is eventually removed from the coast (unlikely), if the damages left by the oil aren't similarly wiped clean from the psyches of the Gulf Coast workers, progress cannot be made.

Obama said, "Beyond compensating the people of the gulf in the short term, it's also clear we need a
long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of the region."

It's troubling Obama failed to cite the mental health factor as one of the long-term problems that must be grappled with. The psychological trauma sustained by fishermen and shrimpers is devastating to the vibrancy of the Gulf Coast, and if either BP or the Obama administration doesn't acknowledge that, oil -- and its aftereffects -- will continue to plague the Gulf Coast.

-- Emilia Barrosse

Photo: Fisherman Jeff Brunfield looks at an oil-coated containment boom protecting Cat Island from the BP oil spill near Grand Isle, La. Credit: Tannen Maury / EPA


Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Vicky Kamberos

Thanks for a thoughtful blog. Too, too often, the toll of a disaster is measured in economic terms. Katrina' mess could be "cleaned up" -- but how long will it be before life in the gulf returns to anything like 'normal'? My prayers are with those who are suffering the psychological torture of this mess. Hopefully, the relief package, when it is finalized, will have more than prayers for these folks. They'll, no doubt, need more than that.

Gus Hastalis

If my insurance policy is any proof, these folks will have a tough time finding access to mental health care. good luck to all of them.

Merle Savage

As the crude oil continues to invade the Gulf; BP, the US Government, the Coast Guard, and other official agencies monitoring the toxic crude, continues to FIDDLE. That is what I called the “Dance of Deliberate Deception”. No one will come forward with the intestinal fortitude, and declare the obviously - that crude oil is toxic to breath. There are warnings posted wherever the refined oil is found, like gas stations. I have been told that a medical study cannot be conducted until after 6 months of exposure. WHAT? There have been 21 years since the exposure of the crude oil in Prince William Sound, and no one is listening. So, after 6 months of workers in the gulf breathe in the crude oil, a study can be conducted? That leads me to believe that the government is holding up the rug, while BP sweeps known reports under the same rug, and the other agencies conduct the “Dance of Deliberate Deception” on top of the rug.
Anyone who reads this alert, stand with me, and demand honest answers for the Gulf residents, and cleanup workers who will be suffering from the crude oil toxic fumes if this political dance continues.

This alert has been posted since day one of the Gulf crude oil spill, and I will continue posting until BP supplies beach oil cleanup workers respirators.

Dear Gulf Residents:
Esquire Magazine:
Las Vegas, Review Journal Article:

My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) beach cleanup in 1989. I am one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers, who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.

Dr. Riki Ott visited me in 2007 to explain about the toxic spraying on the beaches, and informed me that Exxon's medical records that surfaced in litigation by sick workers in 1994, had been sealed from the public, making it impossible to hold Exxon responsible for their actions. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5632208859935499100

Beach crews breathed in crude oil that splashed off the rocks and into the air -- the toxic exposure turned into chronic breathing conditions, central nervous system problems, neurological impairment, chronic respiratory disease, leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, liver damage, and blood disease. http://www.silenceinthesound.com/stories.shtml

Robert Erickson

To: Those Who Boycott Arizona
From: Robert Erickson, Arizona Citizen
Subject: Facts Why the Arizona Law is Needed and Boycotting is Wrong
Date: June 25, 2010

The Problem:
1. The U.S. government is not doing its duty of protecting the Arizona border with Mexico, and is apparently not intending on doing the job that is needed, so Arizona must do something to protect its citizens. The Arizona border must be sealed against illegal entry for security reasons. Arizona recently had a rancher murdered by an illegal who crossed the border to murder him. The police in the city of Nogales have been notified by the drug cartels in Mexico that they are going to kill Nogales police officers for seizing 300 pounds of marijuana. Inadequate support from the U.S. government that is charged with the responsibility of protecting Arizona has forced a defensive response by the Arizona government in an effort to protect its citizens.
2. Americans that cross the border and enter Mexico illegally get thrown in jail and may have a long and difficult time getting out. Immigrants that cross the U.S. border illegally from Mexico get a job, a driver’s license, a social security card, welfare, food stamps, credit cards, subsidized rent or a loan to buy a house, free education, free health care, and lobbyists in Washington D.C. and California. Of course illegal immigrants are going to cross over into Arizona if there is inadequate border control. Not only is the security of Arizona citizens threatened by many of these illegal immigrants but also Arizona can’t afford to pay for all of their welfare.

1. Boycotting does not solve the problem, it aggravates it. Controlling the border solves the problem.
2. Many of the merchants and employees in the Arizona travel business and other businesses are Latinos and Native American Indians. Boycotting Arizona will hurt them.
3. Initiating a trade war with an American state, Arizona is like a double-edged sword and can seriously bite those that initiate it. Once started it is difficult to stop due to the animosities that build up. Much of the boycotting ideas come from California. Arizona buys much more goods from California than it sells to California, and if Arizona chooses to boycott California, California will also be a big loser.



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