Depression, Anxiety, Stress and the Oil Spill: Who Cares?
I have nothing against oily pelicans or dead turtles. My heart breaks for them. I wince when I see their photos and I applaud the remarkable rescuers who care for and clean them.
We all want to run out and by a bottle of Dawn and start washing birds. But can we please pay as much attention to the humans devastated by the BP oil spill disaster? What have we done to help the people along the gulf?
Depression and anxiety will run rampant. We need to remember that these are the same people that survived the emotional devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita just a few years ago. Many of them lost their homes and jobs then and they were just getting back on their feet when the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
The difference with this disaster is that it was man-made – a technological disaster rather than a natural disaster. Steve Picou, a sociologist who studies disasters and lives along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, has studied our response to natural vs technological disasters. Picou watched our reaction to a natural disaster, such as Katrina, and a technological disaster, like the Exxon Valdez and now the BP oil spills.
What Picou, and other researchers, have found is that natural disasters bring communities together – technological disasters separate us. Technological disasters generate “anger, uncertainty, loss of institutional trust, collective stress and litigation.” Natural disaster often create a “therapeutic community.”
“In fact, the very lack of a therapeutic community response to technological disasters exacerbates chronic social impacts through the evolution of “corrosive communities,” Picou wrote in a 2009 report he co-authored called “Synthesis: Three decades of research on the socioeconomic effects related to offshore petroleum development in coastal Alaska.”
“Timely community recovery becomes extremely problematic following most technological disasters since “principal responsible parties” strategically use their legal rights of discovery and appeal, thereby often taking decades before any final retribution for damages is dispensed to victims.”
Look at our response to Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquake in Haiti. Within days of these disasters celebrities organized concerts and telethons. We wanted to send clothes, dog food, water, food and we gave millions of dollars to the Red Cross. Where are the concerts for the victims of the BP oil spill? (Thank you, Jimmy Buffet for your help) Where are George Clooney, Bob Geldoff, Sheryl Crow, Wynton Marsalis, Alicia Keys, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts?
We all want heads to roll and dollars to flow from BP. However, BP is not legally responsible for bodily injuries caused the spill. The Oil and Pollution Act of 1990 requires BP to pay for clean-up, loss of income and profits, property damage and restoring natural resources – but not bodily injury. As of July 7, 284 complaints of anxiety and stress were among the 1,660 bodily injury complaints cited in claims. Of the $153 million had paid on claims, none has been for bodily injuries.
That means the unemployed fisherman, crabbers and oystermen, the seafood processors and restaurant owners and anyone else experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental disorders related to the spill have received no help from BP to pay for therapy or antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
As someone who has depression, I know how long it can take to find the right medication and for it to kick in. These people need help now. They need help paying for their prescriptions now and therapy now. We need to demand mental health care with the same urgency as skimmers. If BP won’t give pay for it, we must raise the money ourselves.
In the meantime, these people need to know that they have someone out there who cares. Isolation is the enemy. When we are depressed it may seem like we don’t care about anything, but empathy matters to us. When we feel that no one gives a damn about us or our plight, we start thinking that the only way out is suicide; Everyone would be better off without me. Nobody cares anyway.
Stapleton, C. (2010). Depression, Anxiety, Stress and the Oil Spill: Who Cares?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 18, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/depression/2010/07/depression-anxiety-stress-and-the-oil-spill-who-cares/