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Levels of serious mental illness in Katrina survivors doubled compared to earlier survey

Boston, MA-- According to the most comprehensive survey yet completed of mental health among Hurricane Katrina survivors from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the proportion of people with a serious mental illness doubled in the months after the hurricane compared to a survey carried out several years before the hurricane. The study also found that thoughts of suicide did not increase despite the dramatic increase in mental illness. The authors suggest that this low rate of suicide thoughts is due to optimistic beliefs about the success of future recovery efforts. The research, which was published today in a special online edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, was led by researchers from Harvard Medical School (HMS).

"The increase in mental illness among Katrina survivors is not surprising, but the low suicidality is a surprise," says Ronald Kessler, PhD, professor of health care policy at HMS and lead author of the study. "Our concern, though, is that this lowering of suicidal tendencies appears to be strongly associated with expectations for recovery efforts that might not be realistic."

This report is the first in a planned series based on the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group, a statistically representative sample of hurricane survivors participating in ongoing tracking surveys to monitor the pace and mental health effects of hurricane recovery efforts. The project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation.

To estimate the influence of Hurricane Katrina on the mental health of survivors, the researchers compared results of the post-Katrina survey with a survey carried out several years earlier that used the same assessment of mental illness. The earlier survey was the 2001-03 National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), taken every 10 years to assess the mental health of the cou
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Contact: John Lacey
public_affairs@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0442
Harvard Medical School
28-Aug-2006


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