Mental health professionals are predicting that psychological issues are going to be on the rise due to the devastating effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Professor Lawrence Palinkas from the University of Southern California stated that society is facing a lot of disruption which is what technological type disasters usually do. Palinkas has been speaking publicly about the long term effects the oil spill is likely to have on Americans. Howard Osofsky from Louisiana State University’s department of psychiatry announced that mental health professionals have been able to observe many factors that indicate that people have started drinking alcohol more. There is also an increase in domestic disputes and these are only the early findings in terms of the oil spills traumatic affects on America’s mental state.
Images of birds covered in oil do not help alleviate this problem. Such visuals serve as a constant reminder to fishermen and others in the business of the devastation that has occurred. It causes even more of a challenge for mental health workers that are being sent to Louisiana and Florida who are trying to aid in the battle against the feelings of despair and hopelessness that so many in the region are feeling.
Some people do not realize the effect that the oil spill actually has on people, because they themselves do not feel directly affected. However, the oil spill that occurred in 1989 involving Exxon Valdez actually caused a sudden rise in domestic violence, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, and bankruptcies throughout the state of Alaska. This situation actually served as a baseline for the field of psychology about the confounding and unique consequences of ‘technological disasters’.
J. Steven Picou from the University of South Alabama has researched the stress of oil spills, specifically the situation that occurred in Alaska. He states that people need to remember to continue to take care of themselves and each other. Sitting in front of the television monitoring the thousands of gallons of oil that are spewing into the Gulf of Mexico by the minute is not going to help the situation. Do not make yourself more miserable by constantly reminding yourself of what is going on.
Psychiatrist Elmore Rigamer also brings up some excellent points. He explains that the oil spill is taking a much bigger toll on people and emotionally affecting them more so than with a hurricane because there is someone to blame. A hurricane is an act of nature, no on caused it to happen. However, the oil spill COULD have been prevented, and which case, many people feel an overwhelming amount of anger toward BP and this anger will continue for a long time. It is easier to accept nature, even at its worst. But to realize that the oil spill could have been prevented and was due to failure on part of corporate ethics for profit by overhauling responsibility, it is much more difficult for people to swallow.
Psychiatrists are in agreement that this oil spill is carrying with it a very high risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder along with major cases of depression and many other mental health issues. The oil spill of 1989 was considered a shock to people and even on its small scale compared to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, caused suffering on a tremendous psychological level. Therefore, this oil spill we are currently facing is going to have far more toxic aftereffects.
There is no doubt that those in the field of psychology including counselors and social workers will prove to be just as beneficial to the recovery effort as anyone else.
Woods, T. Ph.D. Gulf Oil Spill Affects Mental Health. June 2010.