Study Finds Mississippi Families Displaced by Hurricane Katrina Still Face Dire Health and Economic Woes, as Help Barely Reaches Those in Most Need
Children show signs of depression, anxiety and are missing school, while their parents suffer from mental health issues and no jobs
From: News Release and Study Filed 2/4/07 GCN
Thousands of Mississippi families, their lives shattered and uprooted by Hurricane Katrina 16 months ago, continue to suffer today, according to a new study issued Feb.2, 2007, by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The Children’s Health Fund (CHF). The Mississippi Child & Family Health Study, "The Recovery Divide: Poverty and the Widening Gap Among Mississippi Children and Families Affected by Hurricane Katrina," indicates that Mississippi children displaced by the disaster are showing signs of depression, anxiety and general emotional and behavioral problems, with many lacking any health insurance and subsequently missing substantial amounts of school.
Their parent or caregivers are suffering from similar problems, ranging from depression and hypertension to post-traumatic stress syndrome. In addition, the region’s poorest families are sliding further down the economic scale, unable to find jobs to replace the ones they lost after the August 2005 hurricane. The Mississippi study was led by David Abramson of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), in collaboration with The Children’s Health Fund and CHF’s Operation Assist.
The Mississippi study follows a similar one in February 2006 by the Mailman School and CHF of Louisiana families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana study also found that mental health disability and psychological strain were rampant. Children who had been displaced were often socially and medically adrift – many of them were disengaged from schools, without adequate primary medical care, and living among very fragile families.
“Nearly a year and a half after the storm and flooding that devastated the Gulf, some 80,000 to 100,000 children remain trapped in conditions that have created wide-spread hopelessness and despair,” said Irwin Redlener, M.D., director of the NCDP and president of CHF. “Our ongoing clinical work with children in the FEMA trailers and this latest study suggest that as many as one in three children are already suffering from significant mental health, behavioral and school-related problems. This means that, extrapolating from our data, at least 25,000 to 35,000 children are already in serious trouble - with enormous consequences for the future.”
Interviewed for the study were Mississippi residents who were members of 576 randomly selected households displaced or heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina. They were interviewed from August 6 through August 26, 2006, and were from among more than 14,000 displaced and impacted households, representing more than 37,000 adults and children. Details on the study can be found at www.childrenshealthfund.org. Among the key findings:
· More than half of the parents and caregivers interviewed reported that at least one child in the household had experienced emotional or behavioral issues since the hurricane. That is a higher rate than reported among displaced Louisiana residents six months after the hurricane.
· There was a near fourfold increase in the clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety in children after the hurricane. Similarly, the prevalence of behavioral problems doubled.
· The Poverty Penalty: Households that had been among the working class and the working poor at the time of Katrina were most vulnerable to the economic impact – 53% of households with an annual income below $10,000 lost all salaried jobs in the household after the hurricane, compared to 15% of households with annual income above $20,000. Reinforcing this notion of the economic tenuousness of their lives, among those living in FEMA trailer parks only half had access to a bank account and only 16% had a credit card whereas in the impacted community areas 87% had access to a bank account and 49% had a credit card.
· Parents and caregivers reported high rates of mental health distress and disability, well above what is the norm for populations suffering from a debilitating chronic disease and even higher than Louisiana caregivers surveyed in February 2006.
· More than 60 percent of Mississippi caregivers showed high levels of clinical anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in mental health tests.
· Rates of diagnosed hypertension among all adults increased by 35% since the hurricane.
· One out of six children who needed medical care for an illness or injury since the hurricane did not seek care.
· Three times as many children were without health insurance since Katrina, as compared to before the hurricane. Children in Mississippi are uninsured at twice the rate as children in Louisiana, post-Katrina.
· Among elementary school children from six to 11 years old, nearly a third had missed at least 10 days of school in a given month during the last quarter of the spring 2006 semester, and four out of 10 teenagers missed at least 10 days of school in a given month during the same period. “More than a year since the hurricane, Mississippi residents most severely impacted are under siege by mental health issues,” said Abramson, lead author of the study, with Richard Garfield and Dr. Redlener. “These documented high rates of depression, anxiety, and emotional issues among both parents and children, compound the economic hurdles these families face as they try to regain some normalcy in their lives.”
The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Mailman School of Public Health is an academically-based, inter-disciplinary program focused on the nation’s capacity to prevent and respond to terrorism and major disasters. The NCDP provides curriculum development in bioterrorism, training for public health professionals and other first responders, development of model programs, a wide-ranging research agenda and public policy analysis around issues germane to disaster preparedness. www.ncdp.mailman.edu
The only accredited school of public health in New York City, and among the first in the nation, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health provides instruction and research opportunities to more than 950 graduate students in pursuit of masters and doctoral degrees. Its students and more than 300 multi-disciplinary faculty engage in research and service in the city, nation, and around the world, concentrating on biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health policy and management, population and family health, and sociomedical sciences. www.mailman.hs.columbia.edu
The Children’s Health Fund, founded in 1987, is committed to providing health care to the nation’s most medically underserved children through the development and support of innovative pediatric programs and the promotion of guaranteed access to appropriate health care for all children. To date, The Children’s Health Fund’s national network of 21 pediatric programs has treated more than 350,000 children. For more information visit www.childrenshealthfund.org.