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Researchers found that a year afterHurricane Katrina pounded the GulfCoast, survivors have experienced adoubling rate of serious mental illness inthe months following the natural disaster.The Harvard study also found, however,that thoughts of suicide havediminished from levels documentedbefore the storm. The researchers attributedthe finding to an increased level of optimism and resiliencyamong the survivors.

As the largest study to date on this issue, the researchersrelied on a list of 1.4 million families provided by the AmericanRed Cross (ARC). The survey, conducted between January 19,2006, and March 31, 2006, included interviews with 1043 adultsfrom the ARC list who resided in areas affected by the hurricane.The responses were compared with the results of an earlier surveyconducted in 2001 and 2003, which involved 826 adults inthe same census areas of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The study, reported in a special on-line edition of the Bulletinof the World Health Organization (August 28, 2006), indicatedthat post-Katrina participants were about 2 times as likely tohave serious mental illness (11.3% vs 6.1%) and mild-to-moderatemental illness (19.9% vs 9.7%). Of the group with seriousmental health problems, an estimated one third to one halfexperienced posttraumatic stress disorder. The researchers arenow conducting a 6-month follow-up phase and plan to conduct12-month and 18-month follow-ups as well.

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