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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
July/August 2010, Volume 18, Number 4 

a cleanup worker holding plastic bags on the beach

Oil Spill Response: Making Behavioral Health a Top Priority

Acknowledging that the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents in the Gulf region, BP recently contributed $52 million to fund mental health and substance abuse support services. Funding goes to SAMHSA and the four states most affected in the area—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. (See SAMHSA, Gulf States Receive $52 Million for Behavioral Health.)

“We’ve all seen the heartbreaking images—the oil on the water, on the pelicans and other wildlife, on the sandy beaches,” said LCDR Jamie Seligman, LMSW-C, Project Officer at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “What we haven’t seen is the families grieving the loss of their way of life. This is the invisible damage that may have the longest-lasting impact on Gulf Coast residents.”

After two recent trips to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas, LCDR Seligman said what touched him most was the looks on people’s faces. “These people are strong and resilient, but right now, they are stressed. It’s not easy for them to ask for help, but they need jobs, school supplies for their children.”

LCDR Seligman is SAMHSA’s representative at a series of town hall meetings held all over the Gulf Coast states. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, J.D., M.A., leads the meetings and LCDR Seligman is there to support the Secretary in answering any questions that come up about mental health or substance abuse.

As many as 400 people have attended each meeting, and the audiences are diverse, composed of environmentalists, business owners, charter boat captains, shrimpers, parents, and teachers. While most of the questions center around the economy and jobs, behavioral health concerns are just beneath the surface, LCDR Seligman said.

“With Hurricane Katrina, you could see all the damage—the Superdome, the streets, the housing,” he said, recalling his experiences as part of that disaster relief team. “I think this situation is traumatic in a different way because people don’t really know the ultimate implications.”

SAMHSA is committed to addressing the mental health and substance abuse needs of Gulf Coast residents. The Agency has developed public education messages specific to the oil spill to raise awareness about recognizing signs and symptoms of emotional health problems and where to go for help. Tip sheets on topics such as grief, stress management, and support for response workers are posted on the SAMHSA Web site. They are available in English, Cambodian, Haitian/Creole, Lao, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Mental Health Strain

In June, a fisherman’s suicide, apparently as a result of the distress he felt over the spill, highlighted the immediate need for mental health resources.

During a recent visit to the Gulf Coast, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “We are especially concerned about mental health, as it is clear from past experiences and from all our discussions here that mental health and substance abuse issues are likely to be some of the most long-lasting effects of this oil spill.”

Mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are often experienced in the wake of disasters. In addition, people may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their stress and emotions. And in the region still recovering from the damage done by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, these problems may be exacerbated.

Coping with the Oil Spill

SAMHSA has devoted a section of its Web site to materials addressing the oil spill disaster response. See Tip Sheets Can Help for information on the information sheets SAMHSA created.

Annotated Bibliography. The SAMHSA Web site helps to put information on the spill in one spot. The online annotated bibliography provides an extensive list of sources for information, such as materials for first responders, lessons learned from the Alaskan Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, and information on retraumatization.

The SAMHSA Web site provides links to dozens of Federal agencies and other organizations—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Psychiatric Association—involved in the response as well as brief descriptions of what you will find on the sites.

HHS Response

SAMHSA’s efforts represent only part of the Federal Government’s response to the BP oil spill. HHS is helping to monitor conditions that might affect public health and the safety of seafood.

The HHS Web site consolidates information from various agencies and includes health information and resources for coastal residents, health professionals, and response workers.

HHS also provides links to state and local resources in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Find more information on the HHS oil spill response efforts.

Holding on to Hope

“We know that many people affected by disaster are resilient and will naturally recover,” LCDR Seligman said. “But some will need continuing support, and we need to make sure that they are connected to local social service and mental health agencies that may be able to assist them and make sure they are getting the care they need.”

Find more information on SAMHSA’s oil spill response efforts and download the tip sheets.


  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Oil Spill Response

Oil Spill Response

SAMHSA efforts make behavioral health a top priority.



  From the Administrator  
Coping with the Oil Spill

Coping with the Oil Spill

SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., talks about participating in public forums in the Gulf states. Read more.

What’s in a Term:  Latest Responses

What’s in a Term: Latest Responses

SAMHSA has received more than 250 emails in response to the Administrator’s call for comments. Read selected responses.


  Recovery Month  
Ready for Recovery Month?

Ready for Recovery Month?

September is here! Visit RecoveryMonth.gov for details on the biggest celebration yet!



  Multicultural Outreach & Data  
Campaigns Focus on Three Populations

Campaigns Focus on Three Populations

For Chinese, Hispanic, and Native young adults, new public service campaigns focus on mental health.


  Trauma  
Responding to Child Traumatic Grief

Responding to Child Traumatic Grief

When children lose loved ones, what happens then? Also read about creating a trauma narrative.

Policy Academy Promotes Behavioral Health for Service Members

Policy Academy Promotes Behavioral Health

SAMHSA recently convened a Policy Academy to help soldiers as they return from the battlefield.


  Trends  
Dramatic Rise in Abuse of Pain Relievers

Dramatic Rise in Abuse of Pain Relievers

More treatment admissions report abuse of pain relievers.

Admission Patterns over a Decade

Admission Patterns over a Decade

Marked changes have occurred in admissions for substance abuse treatment in the past 10 years.


  Statistics  
In the ER:  Reports on Suicide Attempts

In the ER: Reports on Suicide Attempts

What substances showed up in emergency rooms related to suicide attempts by adolescents and young adults?

States Report on Substance Use, Mental Health

States Report on Substance Use, Mental Health

State-level analyses update data on alcohol abuse, cocaine, pain relievers, and more.


  Women & Substance Abuse  
New Data on  Women Who Work Full Time

New Data on Women Who Work Full Time

How does employment affect women’s substance abuse and treatment?


  Suicide Prevention  
Remember the Lifeline!

Remember the Lifeline!

Feeling desperate, alone, or hopeless? Call SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


  Medicaid  
Medicaid Eligibility & Mental Illness

Medicaid Eligibility & Mental Illness

Read about a program that helped increase Medicaid enrollment by 17 percent.


  Other News  
Treatment Directory Available

Treatment Directory Available

National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Programs 2010 is now available.

Entertainment Industry Meets with Treatment Experts

SAMHSA’s Dr. H. Westley Clark participated in an expert panel to discuss accurate depictions of substance abuse in entertainment.



  


Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – 1 Choke Cherry Road – Rockville, MD 20857
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