The flint crisis has lasting consequences for mental health

BILLIONhe Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis This summer is a disturbing reminder that some American Community still do not provide safe water to their inhabitants. After Jackson’s main water treatment plant failed, about 180,000 people had little or no access to safe water. It’s reminiscent of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, which raised public awareness in 2015, when residents learned they had been poisoned for months by drinking water containing bacteria, a by-product sterilization and lead.

The crisis is far away from a distant memory in Flint. According to a new survey of nearly 2,000 adult community members published In Open JAMA Network on September 20residents are still struggling with long-term mental health effects of the crisis, five years later. After conducting a survey between 2019 and 2020, researchers estimated that in the year prior to the survey, about one in five Flint residents are thought to have experienced major depression, while one in five 4 have PTSD and 1 in 10 have both. People who believe they or their families have been harmed by contaminated water are more likely to be affected. The authors note that leadership itself can affect mental healthincluding mood.

Flint residents, largely low-income and people of color, are inherently vulnerable to mental health problems, including systematic racism, shortages of quality affordable housing and widespread poverty. However, researchers have found evidence that the water crisis itself has a lasting impact on mental health. For example, 41% of respondents said they had felt mental or emotional problems related to their concern about water pollution. Flints are more than twice as likely to develop major depression as the general population in Michigan, the United States, or the world, and are twice as likely to develop PTSD as veterans after deployment, base on the research.

The way the water crisis unfolded makes Flint residents particularly vulnerable to long-term mental health effects, researchers say. A big problem is the decisions of the officials caused the water crisis in 2014, when they moved the city to untreated water from the Flint River. Even after health workers raised the alarm about high levels of lead in children’s blood, officials fool the public by insisting that the water is safe. “The feeling that the community is not being cared for, or is in fact neglected, is in fact neglected,” said Aaron Reuben, co-author of the new study and a postdoctoral scholar at Duke University and Southern Medical College. add a layer of tension. Carolina.

A lack of resources can also add to anxiety. Lottie Ferguson, Flint City’s director of resilience, notes that food insecurity make it difficult for people to eat a healthy diet with a variety of foods minimize the impact of lead toxicity. Ferguson, who worked at Flint during the crisis and had children exposed to lead, says she feels sorry for parents who don’t have the resources like her own family. She said: “I am sadder and more hurt for parents who do not have access to the resources to secure their children’s future.

Also complicating the situation further: the water crisis lasted for a long time. Although the water supply was switched back to its original source in October 2015, lead levels did not drop below the federal limit until January 2017. That left Flint residents feeling uneasy sure about their health and safety. “It’s not like a storm comes and goes, and then you build,” says Lauren Tompkins, former vice president of clinical operations for Genesee Health System, a nonprofit healthcare organization in Flint. rebuild. She coordinates emergency mental health resources available to residents in response to the crisis. “The pipelines have taken quite a few years to repair. So you just stay in this state all the time, for a long time, worrying. “

In many ways, the water crisis isn’t over yet. For example, researchers have describe hyperactivity and learning delay in children. People still do not know for sure how they and their families have been affected by contaminated water, and whether it is causing the health problems they are experiencing today. They also don’t know if new health problems will suddenly appear in the future.

That is similar to what happened after the partial crisis at Three Mile Island Nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, said study co-author Dean G. Kilpatrick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine who studies PTSD and traumatic events. Although the locals not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, fearing that they will suffer long-term mental health damage. “If something is invisible, tasteless, you can’t tell if you’ve got it,” says Kilpatrick. “Even the perception that you may have been exposed to something is, on its own, enough to have many long-term effects on mental health.”

With the help of outside funding and support, Flint community members expanded mental health services in Flint, both during the initial crisis and in the years since. However, only 34.8% of respondents said they received mental health services for crisis-related symptoms, although 79.3% of those provided services did. take advantage of them. The study’s authors say their findings suggest that Flint still needs a better mental health response from local, state and federal governments. There are also important lessons for other cities suffering from water crises, including Jackson – such as the importance of providing the public with clear, accurate information.

Overall, Reuben says, it’s essential to recognize that crises like those in Flint can have a lasting impact on mental health. In Jackson“We want the community to know that we are thinking about them and we will think about their mental health,” he said. “Not only once the faucet is clear, but potentially for many years after.”

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