Gulf States Seeking Mental Health Funding from BP for Affected Residents

BP PLC has yet to respond to a month-old request submitted by health department officials from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi to fund emergency mental health programs for community members affected by the BP oil spill. The states’ health departments predict a looming mental health care crisis caused by the oil spill disaster and are seeking millions of dollars from BP to help fund mental health programs and services to treat the Gulf population’s imminent health care needs.

Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine has asked for $10 million from BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles to fund mental health services in Louisiana. In his letter, Levine cites the state agency’s existing behavioral health counselors advising of a mental health crisis now surfacing among the affected communities, as they are seeing a significant influx of grief, stress, anxiety, depression, increased alcohol consumption, and suicidal ideation. Levine alludes to these symptoms as early warning signs of more serious mental health issues, including substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses, suicide, and domestic violence such as child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, and divorce. Levine as well as other agency officials fears that the current funds for mental health services will only last for a short period, while these critical conditions among the impacted communities will continue to grow worse in coming months.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Spirit program was created to provide crisis counseling and mental health services to assist those affected by the catastrophe. Now with this latest disaster threatening the Louisiana community, the state is seeking assistance from BP to help fund the Louisiana Spirit program to again assist the local community’s mental health needs. So far, the program has received $1 million of a $25 million grant that BP had promised to Louisiana at the outset, yet the state’s health department believes that the money will only last through August. If BP does follow through with the state’s request, Louisiana’s health department claims that the Spirit program will remain afloat for seven months, pay for 2,000 individuals’ prescriptions, and increase the amount of counselors by twofold.

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health has also requested a $10 million grant from BP to fund both public and private mental health clinics, and alludes to the possibility that an additional $10 million may be needed later as well. The state agency has reported increases in patients experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, and aggressive behavior.

The state of Alabama’s mental health agency has requested an immediate $5.7 million from BP to fund a regional grief counseling call center. The proposed call center would assist local individuals suffering from increased stress and depression and refer them to proper health care resources. Alabama’s Department of Mental Health referred to the state’s growing population around the marina and docks that are experiencing greater levels of anxiety. In addition, the state foresees the need for long-term assistance to help cope with chronic stress and anxiety among the impacted community; Alabama is also requesting an annual grant of $20 million for the next five years for mental health services.

After the state agencies’ requests, a BP spokesperson did not offer an immediate response, but mentioned that BP is planning on making an announcement of its decisions soon. The spokesperson also stated that BP is hoping to develop a comprehensive mental health care plan for all the Gulf states affected by the oil spill that includes not-for-profit support services and community resources.

The state agencies firmly believe the mental health care crisis to be a direct cause of the oil spill disaster, and are hopeful that BP will follow through with their requests since the oil company has promised to correct any damages done. Residents have suffered economic hardship including loss of production and lack of profit due to the inability of the hospitality, fishing, and tourism industries in the Gulf region. Now that the oil spill disaster has continued for over two months, residents are experiencing extended hardships which are compounding their financial, familial, and mental wellbeing.

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