This is Public Health

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A recent study to understand the health effects of last year’s BP oil spill suggests that response efforts are in need of improvement. During the first anniversary of the spill, the Gulf Coast Leadership Forum will host the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit, April 19 – 21, 2011 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. The Summit will bring together businesses, government officials, nonprofit organizations, professional associations and the media to discuss solutions for more effective responses during future disasters. Get more information on the Summit and register online. Click here to read a recent Times Picayune editorial about the need for better health policies during oil spills.

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The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) now has tip sheets for handling the mental health burdens of the oil spill in six different languages: English, Cambodian, Haitian/Creole, Lao, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The tip sheets provide resources for talking to children, managing stress and grief, and recognizing signs of alcohol and substance abuse in others. Read more.

If you are looking for more resources about helping friends and family cope with mental health issues – especially those between the ages of 18-25 – SAMHSA has launched an initiative called “What a Difference a Friend Makes.” The initiative’s website offers information about mental illness and guidance for helping friends through difficult times. Visit the site.

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The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has released 6 tip sheets providing people with guidance for dealing with mental health issues following the Gulf oil spill. The documents offer information on talking to children and youth about the disaster and coping with your own stress and grief. Also included are tip sheets about recognizing alcohol and substance abuse problems and helping other manage their stress, as well as resources for navigating difficult financial times. Read more.

Dirty Oil spill clean up worker

Since the start of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April, many have wanted to know which organizations are doing valuable work in affected areas and who they can support to help. A new website, www.oilspilldonation.org, serves as a resource to find out about several organizations making an impact. The site posts one-minute videos about non-profit organizations providing direct service to those affected by the disaster and monitoring response activity. The site was started by the Delta Working Group, a coalition of community members in the Greater New Orleans region concerned about the impact of the oil spill. Click here to go to the site.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that air quality is a moderate health concern in Louisiana coastal towns near the oil spill. The assessment that oil is leading to odor-causing pollutants in the air is based on air sampling in Venice and Grand Isle. The EPA recommends that anyone who is especially sensitive to low quality air should avoid prolonged or heavy physical exertion. Click here to read more. Click here for EPA data reports on air quality in areas affected by the oil spill.

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The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has requested $10 million from British Petroleum (BP) to fund mental health services for those affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill. DHH says that mental health problems are already arising from the disaster, with families and communities feeling significant anxiety, depression, stress, and grief. The state wants to address these issues before they grow into more serious mental health problems. The money requested will spoort therapeutic and psychiatric servies from both local human service departments and DHH’s Louisiana Spirit outreach teams. If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally overwhelmed because of the oil spill, free telephone-based counseling is available from DHH by calling 1 (866) 310-7977. Read more.

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Institute of Medicine scientists and public health researchers met in New Orleans this week and said that the long-term health effects of crude oil on humans are currently unknown. While immediate effects of direct exposure – stinging eyes, rashes, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and coughs – do not appear to be permanent, panelists advised people to take precaution to avoid extended exposure to crude oil. While further research is needed to determine what the long-term physical health effects related to crude oil exposure may be, one thing is clear: disasters like these often have a negative effect on people’s stress levels and mental health. If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally overwhelmed because of the gulf oil spill, free telephone-based counseling is available from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals by calling 1 (866) 310-7977. Read more about the Institute of Medicine meeting held in New Orleans.

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The Our Home, Louisiana Coalition will host twelve Coastal Care Fairs during June and July in parishes affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill. At the fairs, residents will have access to free health screenings, job information, mental health counseling, and stress management workshops. The fairs will run from 10 AM to 3 PM and most will be held at local public libraries. Click here to read more. Click here for a flyer with the dates and locations of all twelve Coastal Care Fairs.

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Disasters such as the Gulf Cost oil spill force everyone to ask the question, “what can we do to keep this from happening again?” Larry Cohen, Executive Director of the Prevention Institute, says that the key is prevention: acting now to reduce our dependence on oil and make risky drilling less necessary. Some steps that we can all take to help make this happen are using less motorized vehicles and more human powered transportation, building our communities to encourage human powered transportaion, and supporting local agriculture by shopping at farmers markets. These are all also steps that will lead to healthier lifestyles. Read more.

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Due to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico since April, those in coastal areas of Louisiana who make their living on and off of the water are now facing a truely uncertain future. This situation is ongoing, and the long-term effects on the Gulf and related industries will be felt for years to come. To make matters worse, many of these individuals are still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav, further exacerbating an already difficult situation. Times of crisis can invariably lead to emotional distress such as frustration, anger, fear, and depression. For free crisis counseling over the phone provided by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, call 1 (866) 310-7977.