Katrina's Emotional Damage Lingers: Mental Health Experts Say Impact Is Far Beyond What They've Ever Faced
NEW ORLEANS -- "I've been thinking the last couple days the best thing to do is die."
The man, speaking on a dull monotone, was slumped in a chair inside the steamy convention center here, waiting to see a doctor. He didn't want to come to the makeshift hospital, but a friend insisted.
"I'd hardly had a drink in years," said the man. "Right after the hurricane hit, I just started drinking. If I stop drinking, the pain becomes so great it's unbearable."
In these months after Hurricane Katrina, it is not hard to find people like David, a quirky, debonair, fragile artiste who asked that his last name not be published. They can be seen walking on deserted streets with glazed eyes. In grocery stores and offices, they inexplicably break into tears. Police officers confess to counselors that they are fighting more with spouses and yelling at their kids. Many turn up at local hospitals searching for a neat explanation for pain the likes of which they have never felt before. [...] "It's like living in the Twilight Zone," said Candace Cutrone, who as assistant coroner for mental health in Orleans Parish has the overwhelming task of evaluating psychiatric cases for local hospitals. "The whole world changed overnight."
Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said he does not have statistics for the city, because many deaths -- including nine by gunshot -- remain a mystery. He knows of at least one woman who killed herself recently. New Orleans emergency personnel have responded to at least six suicides and nearly two dozen suicide attempts since Katrina. The tightly knit community of Academy of the Sacred Heart, the Rosary, is coping with two suicides, headmaster Timothy M. Burns said. Shortly before Thanksgiving, a woman with young children took her life. Last week, the father of a Sacred Heart student was buried. more