BP Oil Spill Taking Emotional Toll on Gulf Coast Communities, Gallup Survey Finds

Depression in Gulf Coast communities impacted by the BP oil spill is up by more 25 percent, and overall, people living in those communities experienced a decline in their emotional health, according to a new Gallup survey. The same survey found that those living in inland counties in the same Gulf of Mexico states showed no such drops in emotional health in the oil spill’s aftermath.

Gallup’s findings are based on 2,598 interviews conducted from Jan. 2-Aug. 6, 2010, with residents of 25 Gulf Coast-facing counties from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas. Of these interviews, 1,239 occurred after the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. During the same period, 30,657 interviews were conducted with residents of inland counties of Gulf Coast states and 179,435 in non-Gulf states as a part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, again split roughly equally on either side of April 20.

Residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties reported 25.6 percent more clinical diagnoses of depression in the period after the oil spill compared with before it. Gallup noted that this question was posed as a diagnosis occurring at any point in the respondent’s life, and it does not necessarily imply that the oil spill itself created new depression incidences. However, the increase in diagnoses reveals that clinical depression along the Gulf coastline was climbing at a time when it was flat throughout the remainder of the country, Gallup’s statement said.

The Well-Being Index also measures daily mood in terms of stress, worry, and sadness experienced “a lot of the day yesterday.” Across each of these daily mood metrics, Gallup’s survey found that residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties experienced measurable increases in these negative emotions that their inland counterparts and residents of non-Gulf Coast states did not.

In addition to a decline in emotional wellbeing, Gulf coast residents’ views of their communities also suffered, according to the survey. Satisfaction with the “city or area where you live” also declined modestly after the oil spill in the Gulf Coast-facing states, as did the percentage of people who believe that their city or area is “getting better as a place to live.” Again, Gallup said it did not find the same declines in emotional wellbeing among respondents who live further inland.

According to an Associated Press report, the level of mental illness seen in the Gallup survey was similar to that seen six months after Hurricane Katrina decimated the coast five years ago, and experts aren’t yet seeing any improvement in mental health five months after the oil crisis began.

Gallup’s statement asserted that its findings provide supporting evidence of the need for enhanced psychological assistance for residents of Gulf Coast counties, and for the targeting of these efforts to residents living along the coastline itself rather than all residents living in the affected states.

BP has provided $52 million for mental health care in the Gulf region, with $15 million going to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals; $12 million each to the states of Alabama and Mississippi; $3 million to Florida; and $10 million to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Associated Press said.

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