wall street journal
In a new study, researchers say the experiences of residents of Flint, Michigan suggest that environmental disasters like the water crisis can have long-term consequences for mental health.
Residents of Flint reported changes in the color, smell and taste of the water shortly after the town changed to the Flint River as its water source in April 2014. Following outrage from residents and reports of children suffering from mysterious diseases, testing by the US Environmental Protection Agency and scientists at Virginia Tech detected alarming levels of lead in the water.
For the new study, which was published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, nearly 2,000 adults living in Flint during the entire crisis were asked about their experiences, their psychological symptoms five years after the crisis, and if they had any mental health issues. Had access to or used the Services in August 2019 and April 2020. Most of the responses were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The researchers found that 1 in 5 Flint residents met the criteria for presumptive major depression, 1 in 4 for presumed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more than 1 in 10 for both disorders.
“Our findings from a study conducted with Flint residents five years after the water crisis suggest that Flint residents report extremely high levels of PTSD and depression, similar to those found in Veterans post-deployment and US and global prevalence rates. The rates are higher,” Angela Moreland-Johnson, one of the study authors and an assistant professor at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, told CNN in an email.
More than half of those surveyed were women and more than half of all respondents identified their race as black or African American.
“Individuals who believed that their or their family’s health was moderately or greatly harmed by a water crisis were 123% more likely to have depression than their peers, 66% more likely to have PTSD and were 106% more likely to have concomitant depression and PTSD. ,” the study said.
According to the survey results, men were 28% less likely than women to meet the criteria for depression and that black residents were offered more mental health services than white residents.
“The Flint community may need expanded mental health services to meet a continuing psychological need,” the researchers wrote in the study. “National disaster preparedness and response programs must consider psychological consequences.”
The new study did not examine the mental health of residents in other communities, such as Jackson, Mississippi, who recently experienced water crises of their own. But Moreland-Johnson said the study results suggest that people involved in crises like Flint “may experience increased PTSD and depression.”
This finding is particularly relevant for people who experienced a potentially traumatic event prior to an environmental disaster, as “these prior experiences may put them at higher risk for mental health concerns, including PTSD and depression.”
The researchers said communication with residents is important.
“Importantly, we found that those who experienced the most damage from the Flint crisis and who were less confident in information provided by officials about water safety experienced adverse mental health outcomes half a decade after the crisis. study author Salma Abdullah, a research fellow at the Boston University School of Public Health, told CNN in an email.
Eight years after the water crisis began in Flint – even with new pipes and a different water source – some city residents recently told CNN they still do not trust water.
“I’ll never drink water again,” said Audra Bell, whose family buys about 10 bottles of bottled water a week for cooking, brushing teeth, making coffee, and drinking for her and her dogs.
Her neighbor Leanne Walters says she does the same.
“There has been no justice in Flint. There is no rebuilding of trust with the government because they have done nothing to do so. So voices go unheard and people get severe PTSD when it comes to water I don’t know whether there will ever be justice for the damage done to Flint and the people,” she told CNN.
Bell said the crisis has been hard on the families, and choosing to live in Flint has not been an easy decision.
Her advice to Jackson residents: “Just do the best you can and keep your family safe.”
Water is back in Jackson, Mississippi, after historic floods took out a water treatment plant where pumps were already failing. But problems for residents may remain.
Abdullah said the research in Flint “highlights the importance of early action after environmental disasters such as the current Jackson MS water crisis.”
“This demonstrates the importance of linking efforts to repair the water supply system with clear communication by authorities to restore confidence in the system’s safety. Efforts should also include mental health measures for those who need it.” It is needed,” Abdalla said.
CNN has contacted the city of Jackson to find out what options residents have for mental health support, but did not immediately hear back. In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health said community mental health centers can provide therapy, peer support and intensive outpatient programs for people in need of psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment.
In a statement to CNN, study author Aaron Reuben, a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the new research “indicates that public works environmental disasters have a long tail, with psychological damage that continues for many years.” can persist if not treated.”
“Simply put, clean water is a necessity for health, wellness, productivity and dignity – and we are failing to provide our citizens with this basic need. We think the residents of Flint who went through the water crisis have been remarkably resilient – and yet there is a huge, unmet need for mental health services to address the psychological effects of the event, which are at a very high level of diagnosis. reflected in the rates. Depression and PTSD in the Flint community,” Reuben said.
“The lesson for communities such as Jackson, MS is not to ignore psychological injury, and not to assume that, just because community members are resilient, they can provide services to overcome the psychological scars of a long-term water crisis. Couldn’t take advantage of it.”