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Times of India
12 July 2010

Sharp Increase In Stress–Related Illnesses
Venice (Louisiana): Gulf Coast native Kindra Arnesen is so anxious about the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill she is packing up her family and leaving town.

“Stress? Dude my clothes are falling off me (because of weight loss). The level of stress here is tremendous. My husband has aged 10 years in two months,”Arnesen said on Friday.

Fears are growing of an increase in stress–related illness and mental health problems from the BP Plc spill. Anecdotal evidence abounds but mental health officials say they lack data about the scale and scope of suffering.

Arnesen recently set up the Wives of Commercial Fishermen network to respond to pressures in the community. Two days ago, a friend told her he was so upset about his failure to get hired by BP’s cleanup program he was considering suicide.

Arnesen’s husband cannot work as a shrimper because authorities have closed swathes of Gulf waters to fishing and her children and other relatives have fallen sick from what she believes are airborne toxins from the leak.

“The mental health impact here ... (and) the level of uncertainty is taking a toll on people and that’s a huge, huge concern,”Arnesen said.

Thousands of Gulf Coast fishermen face financial ruin because of the spill. Some say the stress is worse than after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Then it was possible to get back to work despite the destruction. Now it is impossible to say when waters will reopen.

Many fishermen now rely on BP’s cleanup programme as a financial lifeline and while that has provided a windfall for a few, others have yet to find employment. “We hear it over and over again,”said environmental scientist Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “It is the stress because of the possibility of not being able to earn a living and pay their bills.”

Some experts caution it is possible to falsely perceive an uptick in a health phenomenon just by looking for it. But crisis counselling teams working with Gulf fishermen say anecdotal reports point to increased anger and anxiety and “a lot of marital discord,”said Acquanetta Knight, director of policy and planning at the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

Residents suffering mental distress may hesitate to seek help because of a individualistic culture and strong ethic of self–reliance, where many earn their living working long hours alone on the water. Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi state mental health agencies have asked BP for millions of dollars to pay for expanded mental health monitoring and services.

Oil leaks from the broken wellhead at the site of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil spill affecting mental health of Gulf residents
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