UCLA leads national effort to address New Orleans' mental health needs

To address the enormous mental health needs of New Orleans, UCLA psychology professor Vickie Mays is leading a national effort to provide mental health education and training -- including to New Orleans' parents, families, the clergy and mental health providers -- Aug. 89.

"There has rightfully been a lot of attention on ensuring that the people of New Orleans have safety, shelter, food and medicine, but in addition to issues of survival, many people in New Orleans in response to Katrina have very serious mental disorders as well as severe emotional distress," said Mays, director of the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities. "If we don't intervene with the mental health needs of children now, we could see a generation in New Orleans that will experience depression, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and other chronic problems. We don't want to let the downward cycle start."

Federal officials estimate that 500,000 people are in need of mental health services because of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, many of whom are ethnic minorities, and that 30 percent of New Orleans residents are suffering from serious mental health problems, Mays said. Federal officials state that another 20 percent are in need of help, although they do not meet the criteria for a diagnosed disorder. The mental health disorders include post-traumatic stress, anxiety and severe depression, she said.

Mary Joseph, director of the Children's Defense Fund in New Orleans, described the city's mental health crisis as "terribly serious" and one that transcends class, race and age.

"Children may have new toys, but they have lost a sense of community; they have lost the things that anchor us," said Joseph, whose organization is one of the project's partners. "Single mothers are in a real bind; life for them was hard enough before Katrina. The mental health system in New Orleans needs re-building

Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles

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