Not what you see but what you don't…the post-Katrina coast

For someone who can be a real “chatty Cathy,” I sat quietly with my camera in my lap as Sop drove me down Beach Boulevard – the first time I’ve done that on the post-Katrina coast and the road still isn’t completely open, it’s just no longer blocked.

Gulf side of Beach Boulevard August 2008
Gulf side of Beach Boulevard August 2008

Before the storm, there wasn’t a prettier stretch of highway in America. I’m convinced of that. With the Gulf on one side and one beautiful home after another on the other, it was a sight to behold.

The Gulf side is as beautiful as ever; but, not so the other where all that remains of many of those beautiful homes is a drive way and an otherwise vacant, weed-filled lot.

By the time we headed into the Bay-Waveland area, I’d seen more slabs that I could count and was feeling like an empty lot myself, the experience was so draining.

Lot on Beach Boulevard 3 years after Katrina
Lot on Beach Boulevard 3 years after Katrina

What made it so draining and me so sad was how much those vacant lots looked like those I saw right after the storm almost three years ago.

If this slab was the place I once called home, I can only imagine that I would have been overwhelmingly sad; leading me to believe that the empty lots on the Coast leave others empty and sad – depression is the clinical term.

According to cognitive-behavioral psychologists, depression in humans may be similar to learned helplessness in other animals, who remain in unpleasant situations over which they’d initially had no control.

Once we began to eat, meet, and greet, it wasn’t possible to be sad; and I bounced back and took these pictures the next day. However, others on the Coast are having more than the just a brief depressing experience like my encounter with the empty lots. WLOX, Biloxi television, ran a related story the day before I arrived.

The bricks and mortar cost of the hurricane is obvious. But the emotional turbulence kicked up by Katrina is far more difficult to measure.

Jeff Bennett is director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center.

“I like to call it malignant malaise. Dealing with insurance companies, crooked contractors, still trying to get back into your house, insurance rates going up. People are having problems with that,” said Bennett.

He says we’ve probably “hit the peak” in the number of Katrina related mental health problems. But those issues are likely to surface for years to come.

“People were displaced and our support systems disappeared. Our neighbors who used to be there for years and years, in some cases are gone. And people have trouble with that. They look next door and their buddy is not their anymore.”

This past year we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in the number of calls we’re receiving from the community related to depression and suicide,” said Randy Kirksey, who has been a therapist at Memorial Behavioral Health for 17 years.

He says nearly three years after the hurricane, storm related stresses and anxiety continue to mount, often becoming unbearable for many. “Although they have started rebuilding their homes or trying to rebuild their homes, or they may be still looking for a place to live, cause we still have a lot of families displaced, the stress level is high,” says Kirksey

The Times Picayune ran a similar story a few days later.

Social worker J. Chris Barrilleaux says he sees fewer cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, and more clients suffering from depression as they continue to be bogged down with insurance hassles, home repairs and other obstacles to the full restoration of their pre-hurricane lives.

“The inability to finalize, to put closure on an event, brings depression,” Barrilleaux said.

Today, the Times reported the results of a recent Kaiser Foundation survey that revealed more about post-Katrina mental health concerns.

The survey of 1,294 New Orleans adults, conducted from March 5 to April 28, offers troubling signs regarding attitudes in the city, noting that reported stress levels are rising, perceived job opportunities are limited and more people, especially young adults, are considering relocating.

Nine in 10 of the respondents lived in the city when Katrina hit. Among those individuals, 41 percent said their everyday lives are still somewhat to very disrupted by Katrina, and 53 percent said their general level of stress has worsened.

Post-Katrina mental health can become a legal issue in a policyholder claim as part of the damage cited by a plaintiff, typically as a claim for mental anguish.

Mental Anguish is the mental suffering like fear, anxiety, depression, grief etc. faced by a person during an event, period, action or situation. A person can claim damages for mental anguish if it was logically connected to the incident.

In cases involving Katrina policyholder claims, it is not the anguish caused by the hurricane a court would recognize as damage – the insurance company didn’t cause the storm. Instead, the proximate cause of the anguish would be the disputed claim such as the depression from insurance hassles quoted by the Times.

The rule of proximate cause also applies as an element in mental anguish. And it is accordingly held that a plaintiff in such action must not only show the mental anguish suffered by him was proximately caused by the defendant’s default but that such default was such that would bring suffering to a reasonable human being in the defendant’s situation.

I can’t imagine a policyholder reaching the point of filing suit without some degree of depression. What concerns me more, however, are those who gave up – the learned helplessness of the settled but unsatisfied.

Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illness result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

Beck’s Cognitive Theory of Depression explains how the mental anguish of depression develops in those policyholders that are paid less than expected for the coverage they purchased – an explanation known as Beck’s Cognitive Triad.

Underlying these feelings is the belief that purchasing insurance is a protection when disaster strikes. Consequently, when the result of filing a claim is exposure and not protection, it is only normal to feel inadequate at some level – I must not have filled the form out correctly or I knew I should have explained it better .

However, if attempts to resolve what is initially perceived as a misunderstanding fail, it would be difficult not to feel a sense of defeat and personal failure. If no other source is available for what insurance was expected to provide, a loss of hope in the future – the belief it will never be better – is understandable.

Three years after Katrina, it’s the rebuilding that we don’t see that is contributing to what we can’t see – the mental health of those whose tomorrows are like their yesterdays. Hope – slabbed.

10 thoughts on “Not what you see but what you don't…the post-Katrina coast”

  1. Look, claimsguy is talking to himself back on the buzzard post. What an angry soul this guy has. Looked over the RICO case this weekend, good stuff.

  2. This is a powerful post, Nowdy. I drove over to Pass Christian to visit a friend in March 2006, nine months after the storm. Even though her home was not seriously damaged, she was so depressed that anti-psychotics were prescribed. Where proud landmarks and beautiful homes once stood, there was nothing but slabs and debris.

    She finally gave up and moved from her much beloved home to south Georgia.

    Having seen “before and after” photos of the beach highway, I can sympathize with her and all Mississippi coast residents.

  3. Thank you, mktgpro, there are so many stories like hers that I think FEMA needs to include Prozac in the DA package with the ready-to-eat meals.

    I never could get the pictures in the post on the housing market to show on the screen like they do in draft but the vacant lots are really a chilling reminder of what was lost.

    Sop took me by his “slab” and half his old neighborhood is nothing but a field. His lot was four up from the beach and nothing is standing six lots up and then two blocks over.

    People can’t afford to rebuild because their homes won’t be worth the cost of new construction. The hot market now is repos. Lots of homes that people that rebuilt only to find they can’t afford the payments and insurance; so, they’ve lost their homes twice – first to the storm and then to the bank.

  4. And now 2 years later my old neighborhood is still a big field despite 17′ plus ground elevations. The restuarant where we had the post tour “eat, meet and greet” closed a year or so ago due to a lack of business. It has been joined by several other area businesses that were open pre Katrina that could not make it after, either due to permanent population loss, the oil spill or a combination of both. And insurance rates are as high as ever.


  5. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOowweeeeeeeeeee The gulf south took it on the chin when Gene Taylor was not re-elected . As a victim of insurance fraud himself and seeing the coast raped by what we know now to be the re-insurance scam, he could have been a surviving voice for reform. Hey, having a lot to play baseball or football with the kids without breaking windows is sometimes a blessing. It is almost as good as having your own rainforest.OOOOOOOOOOOOwweeeeeeeeeee

  6. Let me toss you this ‘nana, George – When all is said and done, what will hurt the district the most was loss of the “guardian” who kept other job-hungry coastal areas from “having their way” with those industries that provide jobs all along the gulf coast.

    While Katrina made Gene a champion of insurance reform, the need is nationwide. Gene took the hits from the Big Insurance lobby. Other Members took the money and survived.

    IMO, it won’t be long before the “smoke” over health insurance blows off and reveals the “fire” – insurance is insurance by any name and the the problems with health care are one in the same as those Gene was fighting with property – what Judge Senter so aptly called “illusory coverage”.

    Others have no choice now but to take up Gene’s fight for insurance reform but no one can provide what he did to protect the industrial jobs of the gulf coast region centered in his district.

  7. I’ll add that despite the public protestations to the contrary by Thad Cochran and Steven Palazzo they can not replace what Gene brought to the table in the House of Representatives straight out of the chute.

    How significant is it that the newspaper from Virginia, which counts one of Ingalls main competitors in its market, lament his election loss. He had gotten to the point in his career where not only did he protect jobs in his home district but also those in Virginia and Maine as well. American jobs that his sucessor’s party has historically been content to see shipped overseas.

    We won’t feel the loss of his seniority right away but we will no doubt miss it down the line.


  8. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooowwweeeeeee Nowdy and Sop: I watched Gene on c-span several times and he was sincere and spoke from the heart which is a rarity in D.C.. Perhaps he will land somewhere where he can put forth a voice for fair wind liability insurance cause I do believe that is a huge factor in the failure of the gulf south to return to its pre-Katrina status.OOOOOOOOOwweeeee

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