Published Online: Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Big Easy is waging a new kind of battle—a mental health emergency. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2006, New Orleans officials are now facing a rising number of individuals with mental health problems and no way to treat them.

According to statistics from the coroner's office, the suicide rate in the 4 months after the hurricane struck was 300% greater, compared with prehurricane levels.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey taken after the hurricane found that 26% of respondents reported that at least one individual in their family required mental health counseling, but <2% were getting any. Current data show that emergency calls involving individuals who need psychiatric treatment are about 15% higher than before Katrina.

The city's top officials said that depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety are widespread. Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other chronic mental illnesses are suffering because they cannot get the treatment they need. Throughout New Orleans, only a few dozen hospital beds remain available for inpatient psychiatric services, down from >300 prior to the hurricane.

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