From the archives – and why we

While we knew in August 2008 this post would go down as one of our best ever we continue to be humbled by the high quality traffic it receives literally from across the world to this day, mostly from Universities and think tanks but also from governments, both domestic and foreign. It has certainly worn well with time because it has gotten more traffic each year since it was published in August 2008 with almost half the total views coming this year and it is one of our top 10 posts in terms of page views. Though the insurance battles for coverage are largely over, 5 years after Katrina and a massive oil spill later, it still remains not what you see but what you don’t here on the post Katrina coast. ~ Sop November 4, 2010

Not what you see but what you don’t…the post-Katrina coast (published August 11, 2008)

Gulf side of Beach Boulevard August 2008

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.

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

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.

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