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Joining Forces: Women Veterans Speak Out

Posted by YWM on May 9, 2011

Read our second installment of our new every-other-week Joining Forces feature that will bring us the voices of women veterans telling their stories.  If you are a women veteran who would like to share your story, please contact us through our Joining Forces for Women Veterans Facebook page.

What Front Line? by Tonya V. James

When we watch television or listen to stories of service members recounting the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and combat stress,  we often times only see and think of male service members. You may think that maybe women do not deal with these type issues because they are not a part of combat arms units. While that is technically correct, female service members cannot be assigned to combat arms units, they can be in combat service support jobs, and are often attached to combat arms units.

The myths of a “front-line” type of war like the Civil War and that women are “in the rear with gear” are a thing of the past. Women are receiving combat action ribbons and Purple Heart Medals like never before.  Yet Americans today seem to have a hard time grasping the concept of their daughters on patrols in occupied cities or leading convoys on dangerous routes where improvised explosives devices (IEDs) are planted. The fact of the matter is they are, and they are doing it just as well as their male counterparts.

While I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to the Helmand Province, I was a part of what is called a Female Engagement Team which consisted of four female Marines and one female Navy corpsman. Our job was to go along when one of the infantry units went out to patrol. We would go out with them to talk to local women because the males were not permitted to do so. Our primary mission was to win their hearts and minds and gain valuable intelligence about insurgents.  While we were out on missions, I never felt overwhelmingly afraid, although, my adrenaline did increase at times.  But everything would feel normal once we returned back to our base camp.  It was not until my return to the States that I started having very vivid nightmares of someone trying to kill me, and was unable to sleep. Based on questions I was asked at my required post deployment health assessment, I learned that I was dealing with combat stress.  The scary part is that I answered no to most of the questions when the real answer was a big fat yes.  And I honestly believe that a lot of female service members do answer no while on active duty. They may feel that their role was not as great as their male counterparts and in turn believe that what they are going through is not a big deal. Which still does not change the fact that they have a lot emotional and mental issues that need to be dealt with whether they remain on active duty or not.  But the important thing to remember is that it is always easier to get help and support while on active duty, or at least get it started, before leaving the ranks.

As troops return home from war, some leave active duty soon after returning without getting the helpor dcoumentaiont of their health status.   This is important if they are going to get services after leaving active duty.  I cannot stress the importance of taking your mental evaluation seriously and not downplaying any emotions that you may be feeling, because your service is no different than that of your brothers-in-arms.  A little known fact is that one in three service members that go to a combat zone do have some level of combat stress and that female service members are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as males. It is also important that once you leave active duty, if you feel that you need help, seek it out immediately. These emotions do not just go away with time, as we can see from the Vietnam Era veterans. A site I recommended to those that have asked for my help after leaving active duty is www.ptsdhelp.net. There are many other organizations, including VA and non VA,  that can get you the right help that you need.

Posted in Joining Forces, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mental health, Veterans, Women's Equality Day | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Lessons of Eat Pray Love

Posted by egehl on February 14, 2011

It has been a few years since I read the book, and after recently seeing the movie I was reminded again why the storyline has resonated so deeply with me and millions of other women.  Eat Pray Love exploded into cataclysmic popularity for a reason—it struck a powerful chord and unearthed common threads of joy, pain, loss, renewal and the insecure struggle to follow our hearts that we all endure.  

Now that I’ve read the book and watched the film, I keep thinking about why the characters and plot have been so popular worldwide and what nerve did they hit?  It seems to me that when women universally rally behind something it’s usually because it’s touched upon something that’s not being talked about or remains suppressed in our societal dialogue.  

Very similar to the huge female following and response to Sex and the City, which empowered women to talk openly and honestly about relationships and sex, Eat Pray Love uncovered a popular emotion and angst among women about loving and getting to know ourselves, following our passions and happiness, facing our fears and taking a leap of faith, and figuring out what we really want in life. 

Just like Sex and the City ripped away society’s taboo about female sexuality, I think similarly Eat Pray Love uncovered a universal desire that women crave to discover our truths and to find the courage to follow them.

Stories and characters in Sex and the City and Eat Pray Love forced a conversation among women, and between women and their partners, about the relationships we have with ourselves and each other.  And ultimately how those relationships can lead us closer to, or stray us away from, true happiness and why we continually find ourselves in a perpetual state of self-exploration.  

All women at some point second guess their decisions, ruminate about their current life status or try to resolve what’s missing in their lives.  However as women we often never talk openly about it.  In my experience, many women love putting forth a mask of perfection and will paint an ideal picture for everyone to admire to keep up whatever pretense that seems acceptable.  Many of us rarely discuss what’s really happening behind closed doors for fear of being judged, having our actions and thoughts called into question, or opening up the possibility of doubts being planted. 

Unfortunately that has its price and Liz Gilbert in her amazing journey busts all of that open as she lets us into her very personal journey of self discovery through a period of intense depression, guilt and doubt but eventually crossing over to a place where she finally finds peace, self-love and balance. 

I have read mostly positive reviews of Eat Pray Love, but there are some negative ones too.  The negativity usually stems around how she acted in a narcissistic way by leaving her husband for no real reason, and how unrealistic it is for someone to have the financial means and freedom to travel for a year.  Granted, 99% of people cannot experience the full extent of Liz’s adventures, but I don’t think that was her point in writing this book.  She wrote this book for her own breakthrough, not to pronounce that travel is the only way to seek spiritual renewal and self-discovery.  That is what worked for her and while travel is a wonderful way to find yourself, it isn’t the only way. 

What people should gain and come away with isn’t to follow exactly what Liz did, but to seek your own pathway to self-love and inner peace.  Because as women no matter what life stage we are in, what responsibilities we have or decisions we’ve made, it’s imperative that we must not be idle in what should be an ongoing journey of self-discovery. 

I don’t think you have to travel to a far off land to ruminate and gauge the various things happening in your life.  There are many ways to find avenues for serenity, spirituality and self-learning here at home.   Whatever brings you peace and clear-headedness, whether that’s a yoga class, meditation, walk in a park, swim in a pool or writing in a journal, do more of it.  I believe you can discover the same “aha” moments Liz had in your own backyard. 

Overall what I hope women take away from this story, beyond the wonderful scenery and backdrop, idyllic romance and fabulous characters along the way, is that each of us has the responsibility for our own well-being and ultimate happiness.  It’s easy to fantasize about having a spiritual retreat and traveling around the world like Liz, but underneath all of that was the incredibly strenuous, honest and painful mirror she had to look into everyday to reach the sense of peace and understanding she so desperately sought.  It is our responsibility to figure that out in whatever shape or form that looks like.  And if we take the time to experience that enlightening, sometimes very painful, journey the payoffs will be rewarding and long lasting.

Posted in Feminism, Friendship, Lifestyle, Mental health | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

New Study Sheds Important Light on Women Veterans

Posted by egehl on January 31, 2011

BPW Foundation applauds Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) for successfully amending a defense appropriations bill in 2009 to direct the Veteran’s Administration (VA) inspector general to examine the gender differences in the prevalence and diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and other combat-related conditions.  The study has now been released and results show that the VA needs to work harder to inform women of services available to them, and needs to better train staff to deal with the specific problems that women face in combat.

The study concludes that female military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to be diagnosed with mental-health conditions than their male counterparts.  It also found that women are much more likely to suffer from major depression and to have a harder time transitioning back to civilian life after combat service than men.

Further, the report reveals important reasons why women veterans have a harder time transitioning back to civilian life than their male counterparts, and how the VA can tear down the obstacles women face to receive PTSD treatment.  It also sheds light on the often unspoken needs of women veterans and the gender differences that exist, such as the lack of official recognition that women have served in a combat zone, which impedes their ability to get the benefits they deserve. 

With this new information, the VA has identified and corrected one of the biggest obstacles facing women who need care for PTSD: the requirement that they have served in direct combat, which leaves out many female service members because Defense Department policy requires that women be excluded from units that primarily engage in direct ground combat.  This rule has now been eliminated, which had essentially blocked women veterans from getting PTSD care. 

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly challenged our traditional definition of combat, as women are often exposed to many war-time incidents that can produce mental stress, such as road-side bombs, and cause women to feel like they are on the frontlines.  Therefore an increasing number of veterans are experiencing traumatic events without direct combat experience.   This is now being recognized by the VA and they will allow any veteran that served in a combat zone to apply for help with PTSD.

Since 2007, BPW Foundation has engaged in programming and research about women veterans to identify solutions for their transition from military to civilian life through our Women Joining Forces (WJF) initiative.  Information in the VA report aligns and builds on the research BPW Foundation has conducted about the state of women veterans, and the challenges they often face after serving our country.  

BPW Foundation’s research shows that gender shapes men and women’s military experience as well as their transition process to civilian life.  While both men and women face transitional challenges, the challenges have different manifestations because of gender.  Upon arriving home many women veterans do not identify as veterans and can feel socially isolated and alone, which can result in feelings of hopelessness and confusion that only exacerbate possible symptoms of PTSD and depression from being exposed to war.  Women veterans are more likely to fall into homelessness than their non-veteran female counterparts, and as of last year 11.2 percent of women veterans were unemployed. 

All of these factors are exacerbated because many women veterans do not identify as veterans and do not understand the benefits available to them thereby denying them the services and treatment they desperately need.  This is why the findings of the VA study are so powerful because it identifies specific problems in our system and prompts long overdue recommendations for viable solutions. 

Now that the study has been completed, Senator Warner sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to urge him to take swift action on the problems identified in the study.

Stay tuned for further developments taking place in the aftermath of this long overdue report.

Posted in Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mental health, Research, Veterans, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Distressing Research about Suicide Rate Among Women Veterans

Posted by egehl on December 14, 2010

Mental health problems and experiences do not discriminate.  They impact everyone regardless of race, background, age or status. 

However one population in particular is acutely feeling the onset of intense feelings of depression and despair, which is leading to alarmingly high rates of suicide—women veterans.   According to a recent study by Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University, it found that younger women with military service are three times more likely to kill themselves than their civilian counterparts. 

While it is known that many women veterans experience post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), hypertension and depression, until this study there was not a clear sense of whether these and other symptoms were leading to acts of suicide.  However now there is, and stakeholders invested in the health and well-being of women veterans must be mindful of this latest research and react accordingly so that women veterans have the mental health support they deserve.

The report entitled, “Self-Inflicted Deaths Among Women With U.S. Military Service: A Hidden Epidemic?”, has sparked an important and timely dialogue about mental health problems occurring among female veterans.  This research effort led by the Oregon Universities is the largest study on suicides among female veterans, and is based on information collected from 16 states.   The study examined 5,948 female suicides between 2004 and 2007, and found that women veterans aged 18 to 34 were most at risk

Prior to this study the high number of suicides among male veterans was well known, however until now it was not adequately tracked or documented that female veterans are taking their own lives at a similar rate.  What this research has unfortunately uncovered is that young women who served in the military are three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts. 

There are significant factors that can explain these alarming numbers such as women veterans are more likely to experience military sexual assault (MST) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can result in high rates of homelessness, difficulties securing work, and reintegration challenges which in turn only exacerbate the mental health problems.  And compounding the issue even more, women veterans are less likely than men to use Veteran’s Administration (VA) health care services, or self-identify themselves as veterans so mental health professionals may not know to look for symptoms based on their unique experiences.

Another factor contributing to women experiencing higher levels of stress is that their roles in combat have changed.  While the Pentagon bans women from ground combat roles, a shift has happened in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  During these intense conflicts, women have found themselves “manning” machine guns, searching and arresting Iraqi civilians, and driving along IED-ridden roads.  Therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that women are experiencing the same levels of PTSD and depression as their male counterparts; yet veteran services are not reflective of that and failing to recognize these shifts in responsibilities and expectations which will lead to an increase in female mental trauma. 

The trauma of combat, aggravated by the prevalence of sexual assault, leaves many female veterans at risk for suicide.  For those female veterans that have experienced military sexual assault (MST) they should be able to seek a safe place and opportunity for support that is tailored specifically to what a woman needs for her to heal from this distressing experience.  This is important because incidents of sexual assault within the military are rising.  In March, the Department of Defense issued its annual report on sexual assault, citing an 11 percent increase in reported sexual assaults throughout the past year.  And overall women experience higher rates of military sexual assault while in the service (20-40 percent) than men, and repeated exposure to traumatic stressors will increase the likelihood of PTSD.

It is glaringly evident that the mental health needs of female veterans are increasing and having an overall impact on the health care services provided by government and private clinics.  Mental health services must be better designed with women’s needs in mind and incorporate the unique experiences female veterans have endured during their service. 

However that is not often the case.  Women must face access issues including limited availability of women-specific services, unwelcoming practices that occur at medical centers and clinics, and harmful social beliefs and perceptions about women veterans.  Overall many clinics, including the VA, are not prepared to treat high rates of PTSD among women as a recent study found that the nearest VA site did not offer mental health care for approximately 40 percent of women veterans.  

Across the board mental health continues to be a taboo issue that many people struggle to address appropriately.  However for women veterans the confusion of knowing if there’s a significant problem and how to seek help can be even more paralyzing and cumbersome resulting in fewer women getting the help they need.  This study is an upsetting reminder that there’s a huge need among the women veteran population and should be a wake-up call to veteran stakeholders to pay attention and react in ways that will better address and solve this mental health crisis.

Posted in Families, Health, Homelessness, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mental health, Research, Veterans, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How What I Learned Helped One Female Vet

Posted by joyinhome on November 10, 2010


Let’s rewind about fifteen years…I was attending a family 50th anniversary event. I was excited to see a cousin with whom I was close growing up. I had not seen her in at least seven years: she joined the Army, I went to college.

I approached her babbling, eager to catch up and hugging her. She looked up to acknowledge me and gave a slight smile. This was not Ronnie; it looked like her but not quite her. I don’t remember the brief conversation but the next day begged my mother to contact family members because something was wrong. The rest is foggy. I didn’t see her again for at least a decade.

Fast forward to Labor Day 2010. At a family cookout, I spent time with her and recognized her again. There was still something in those eyes but we promised to keep in touch.

Later that evening as I said my goodbyes, I overheard her saying that she was opening a home for disabled women vets. My ears perked up and I pulled her aside. I told her that the organization I worked for was having a Summit for women vets in a few months and asked her to attend and participate. She agreed. We met the next week and she shared her story with me.

I told our CEO I had an event speaker who could speak to the reintegration of women veterans. Veronica Harrison served on our panel at Joining Forces for Women Veterans last month. Hear what she and other female veterans had to say.

A few days after the event, I shared my memory of her at that anniversary celebration so long ago with Ronnie. I told her that it was not until few years ago that due to my work on women veteran issues did I recognize what I saw that day so long ago. She was quiet and began to cry. “I was gone.” I told her that I was so sorry that our family didn’t understand and couldn’t help her. We need to make sure families can be a support system for our ‘sheroes.’

Today, I can’t catch Ronnie because she has so many meetings and appointments to lay the foundation for The Lighthouse, the transitional home that she is establishing.

I am so proud of Veronica Harrison! I love her and thank her for her service to this country. It’s Veterans Day, you should do the same. Thank a veteran for his or her service today and always. Learn more about supporting women veterans at www.womenjoiningforces.org.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Mental health, Veterans, Women Veterans | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Have We Learned Since Vietnam?

Posted by joyinhome on November 5, 2010

I have only heard stories from my mom and seen Hollywood depict the journey of many soldiers returning home from Vietnam. A return that was peppered by ridicule, hostility, homelessness and mental illness…for those who made it home. We treated those who were sent to fight and served their country, as enemies and strangers. And whether we want to admit it, many of them call the streets across this nation, home. These were the young men that experienced war…but there were also women who served as nurses and medics who suffered as well.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Women are increasingly serving in the military, in fact they constitute 20 percent of new recruits and 15 percent of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, their return home is riddled with homelessness, mental illness and isolation. For more information, watch Joining Forces for Women Veterans, an event featuring testimonies from women veterans, service providers and keynote speakers, Valerie Jarrett and Tammy Duckworth, on the unique trials and triumphs that women veterans endure.

What have we learned since Vietnam?

Many of today’s veterans still lack the support and benefits that they so richly deserve. Too many still suffer when they return home and mostly in silence, in the presence of family and loved ones who don’t understand. Next week is Veterans Day. We must do a better job of honoring the sacrifices made by all veterans. Remember to thank (and keep thanking veterans) for their service.

More info:
Issue Brief on Family and Community Reintegration
Issue Brief on Homelessness
Issue Brief on Employment and Careers

Posted in Families, Mental health, Research, Veterans, Women Veterans | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Family and Community Reintegration

Posted by sherrysaunders on October 28, 2010

Family and Community Reintegration Issue Brief

Throughout American history, women have served our country valiantly in times of peace, war and conflict. For far too long, though, women veterans have been invisible. It wasn’t until the 1980 Census that women were asked if they had served in the U.S. Armed Forces. When finally asked the question, more than 1.2 million women responded “yes.” Every day women in the military proudly serve our country, but when they return home they often do not receive the recognition, benefits and services they have earned.

Women represent 15% of the military and are the fastest growing veteran population. Yet, tools and programs are still largely designed with men in mind and do not necessarily meet the unique needs of women veterans. Gender shapes men and women’s military experience as well as their transition process. Reintegration is a multi-dimensional process. The discussion below explores gender-based constraints to women veterans’ successful reintegration into their families and communities and promising practices for addressing those constraints.

The three constraints highlighted below – social isolation, family tension, and physical, mental, and emotional trauma – are not exhaustive. The three categories are meant to provide a broad overview of the types of reintegration constraints experienced by women. For each constraint several contributing factors are suggested including access barriers, faulty and harmful beliefs and perceptions, and social expectations regarding gender roles and responsibilities. To design effective programs and policies for women veterans, it is imperative that we understand the root causes of the constraints they encounter.


Promising Practices
Examples of organizations that offer promising practices to addressing the unique reintegration challenges experienced by women.

The webcast of the Joining Forces for Women Veterans Inaugural Summit can be viewed online at your convenience.

Posted in Families, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mental health, Misbehavin' Notification, Uncategorized, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Work + Life = Balance

Posted by joyinhome on August 10, 2010


Since I work for an organization that advocates for w/l balance, you’d think I’d be better at it.

We went virtual and transitioned to ROWE and I’m still not flexin as Stef would say…I’m workin’ on it…

Posted in Families, Mental health, Successful Workplaces, Worklife Balance | 2 Comments »

My Anti-Sress List

Posted by egehl on July 20, 2010

In life, when it rains it pours.  I am stressed.  This month I have been burning the candle at 10 ends, and it’s catching up to me.  I have been thinking about how women deal with stress and what we do to alleviate the intensity and anxiety of feeling overwhelmed. 

I think each of us have our own coping mechanisms, some healthier than others, but the bottom line is we have to be mindful about when stress levels become too much.  Women have a tendency of saying “yes” too much, biting off more than we can chew, and feeling guilty if we don’t put others before our own well-being.  Stress can come from family, friends, work, everyday grind of life and outside factors we have no control over like disasters and communities in distress. 

How do you handle your stress?  What coping mechanisms do you employ to get your mind off the things overwhelming you?

Here is what helps me:

Exercise:  It’s true what they say, exercise is the natural high of life.  When you get those endorphins going it lifts your mood, calms your nerves and makes you feel better.   

Swimming:  While any kind of exercise helps me focus and take a break from my stressors, there’s something about swimming.  Being under water and swimming laps helps me completely break away from the world around me.  During the summer, you can find me in a swimming pool. 

Shopping:  It’s a girl’s best friend.  It may not be great on my pocket book, but when I shop I get tunnel vision and forget what’s ailing me.  And let’s face it as women we all get an endorphin high when we purchase a great find.  The excitement may be fleeting for our new things, but it does take our mind off of life for a moment. 

Laughter:  This should be in tall order when you are feeling extremely busy.  Laughter is a fabulous remedy for bringing yourself back down to earth from your stressed little perch.  So grab that friend or coworker that’s guaranteed to put you in stitches and ask for some entertainment.   

Organize (and clean):  There’s something about organizing and cleaning my house and personal things that gives me a sense of control that may be lacking in my busy life. 

Trash TV:  There is no shortage of trash reality TV these days. Every station has their version of portraying someone else’s crazy life.  You think your life sucks?  Check out some of the folks on TV.  Not only will you get to zone out for a moment, but it will make you feel a lot better! 

Make lists:  While this idea may make some people cringe, lists are my life line when I am really stressed. 

Take a deep breath:  It sounds hokey, but it really works. 

Stop watching the news:  As a news junkie, this is hard but it does help to stop listening to and reading about the trials and tribulations of our world.  There’s a lot of crappy stuff going on, especially if you live along the Gulf Coast, so separate yourself for a bit.  While it’s important to stay informed sometimes it can add to our anxiety, so take a break. 

Disconnect yourself:  We are all about technology these days but being connected to everyone all the time can really add to our stress.  While it’s fun to Facebook, Tweet, email, and IM if we constantly feel as if we have to stay connected to everyone all the time it gets overwhelming.  Give yourself moments to disconnect from your cell phone and computer.  Better yet, shut them off.

Say “no”:  As women, this can be really hard.  We want to be there for everyone, feel guilty not attending to the needs of others when asked, and ideally want to be able to do it all.  However doing it all is what gets us to this place of feeling completely overwhelmed and miserable.  Set boundaries and the people who love you should understand.  If they don’t, then it’s time to reassess those relationships.  I think the older we get the clearer this becomes, but it’s a constant internal battle we always have to keep in check. 

Travel: For those of us who tend to be escapists, there’s nothing better than getting away.  If you can’t take a trip out of town, then travel to your nearest park or somewhere peaceful outside.  There’s something about the quiet outdoors that’s really good for the soul.  

Music:  Listen to songs that quiet you down, clear your thoughts, make you smile and inspire you to sing. 

Glass of wine:  I wouldn’t be honest with my list if I didn’t add this.  Like anything in life moderation is key, but a glass of wine occasionally at the end of the day is a beautiful thing.  

Writing this blog!:  Expressing your thoughts through writing is a wonderful way to vent, relieve stress and alleviate pent up feelings and opinions.  So write in a diary, contribute to a blog or put your thoughts on paper.  

Now that I’ve made my list, I feel better already.

Posted in Families, Friendship, Lifestyle, Mental health, Rant, Worklife Balance | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hitting Too Close To Home

Posted by egehl on July 9, 2010

Sadly earlier this week the oil spill hit even closer to home.  On Monday, reports came out that tar balls were found in Lake Ponchartrain, the body of water directly adjacent to New Orleans.  It’s also the same lake that flooded thousands of homes after Hurricane Katrina because the levees breached.  As the oil makes its way closer to New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana this ongoing catastrophe is becoming more dire and bigger by the day.

For New Orleans and surrounding areas, having the oil reach our shores is a sucker punch after being through enough change and turmoil over the past 5 years.  Louisiana communities are still reeling from the 2005 and 2008 hurricanes that ravaged our communities, culture, way of life, jobs, homes, and businesses.  This oil spill has been like throwing salt on a wound that’s barely healing.  And many are saying the damage will be worse than Katrina.  

I think many of us feel almost desensitized to yet another catastrophe and the inevitable social, economic, environmental and health repercussions.   However while there will be many outcomes due to the spill one in particular that is very troubling is the mounting toll on mental health.  

Already we are seeing a rise in mental health related problems among people and children along the Gulf Coast, and it’s only the beginning.   Undoubtedly this latest disaster will rip apart the fragile fabric of our communities, as families feel the impact through division, frustration and helplessness. 

Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals wants BP to pay 10 million dollars for mental health services such as outreach and counseling for people impacted by the spill.  BP says it’s reviewing the request to offer mental health services however unfortunately as of right now they are unwilling to pay for it.  If they decide not to pay for these services, there should be an outcry because mental health should not be ignored.

As the spill rages on anger, anxiety and uncertainty among families and communities continues to mount and will eventually manifest into addiction, divorce, depression, bitterness, friction within the community, and in the worst case scenario, suicide.  Unfortunately already we have seen how the spill has brought people to the brink when an Alabama fisherman hired by BP to help clean Gulf waterways committed suicide on board one of his own boats.

People are facing overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and a permanent dislocation from a lifestyle they love.  There is so much confusion and conflicting reports about what’s safe and where people should go for help.  And many feel like they have no place to turn to get reliable information. 

A colleague of mine has been speaking with community leaders from Alaska who experienced the Exxon Valdez firsthand.  Their stories and accounts are deeply worrisome and have given me chills.

They say that Alaskans are still struggling over 20 years later, and the mental health challenges felt by families in and around Prince William Sound has been enormous.   They have relayed how “social capital” and community trust broke down in hard-hit Cordova, Alaska, as people isolated themselves, grew depressed and watched relationships fall apart.  If the mental health toll was bad and ongoing in Alaska, I can’t imagine what it will be here with a disaster 20 times its size.  

Economically Louisiana engages in an odd, too close for comfort dance between the oil and gas and seafood industries.  My state prides itself as a place that produces oil and seafood, no matter how strange these bed fellows are.  And it’s not uncommon for one family to have members that are fishermen and oil rig workers.  Therefore families will be torn apart as they are pitted against each other for jobs and the fight over which industry should be more protected. 

Louisiana has been impacted by the two worst man-made disasters in our nation’s history.  And that has a different mental impact on people than natural disasters.   A therapeutic community emerges after a natural disaster after people quite blaming Mother Nature and God for what’s happened.  However in cases of “technological disasters” like the levees breaching after Katrina and this oil spill, where steps like rescue, recovery and rehabilitation remain elusive and blame comes easy, it’s a different and longer healing process. 

Fortunately because the state went through Katrina not long ago, we have community resources, nonprofit services, assistance agencies and trained professionals in place to deal with post-disaster therapy.  However it’s not enough. 

The resources and professionals that will be needed to deal with the thousands of people suffering in silence will far outweigh what BP is most likely willing to pay for, and the capacity of what organizations can offer.  Thus far Catholic Charities is overseeing much of the direct assistance and case management services associated with the spill however what they can do will be a drop in the bucket unless we can get numerous organizations involved and on board.  But that can’t happen without funding and right now the federal and state governments won’t fund this work unless BP is willing to reimburse them. 

I am worried that my fellow citizens are on the brink.  They have dealt with 4 hurricanes and now their way of life is being turned upside down, what more can they take? 

However what gives me hope is the amazing people I have met over the past three years who through thick and thin continue to love their homes and communities, culture and way of life and will do anything to rebuild and protect it.  Louisiana is worth preserving and fighting for because there’s no other place like it, and people here know that.  There are few people as strong and resilient as Louisianans and I know with the right help they can get through this latest hurdle.

Posted in Environment, green, Mental health | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »