Flint Water Crisis Left Long-Term Mental Health Consequences | Health Advice

TeaThe Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis this summer is a disturbing reminder that some American communities are still failing to provide their residents with safe water. After Jackson’s primary water treatment plant failed, about 180,000 people had little or no sanitation water left. It is reminiscent of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, which rose to widespread public awareness in 2015, when residents learned they would be poisoned for months by drinking water containing bacteria, disinfectant byproducts and lead.

The crisis in Flint is a distant memory. According to a new survey of nearly 2,000 adult community members published In jama network open on 20 september, residents were still grappling with the lasting mental health effects of the crisis, five years later. After conducting a survey from 2019 to 2020, researchers estimated that in the year before the survey, nearly one in five Flint residents experienced major depression, while a quarter had PTSD, and one in 10 had Both had diseases. Those who believed they or their families had been hurt by contaminated water were significantly more likely to be affected. The authors note that lead itself can affect mental health, including mood.

Flint residents, who are largely low-income and people of color, were already vulnerable to mental-health issues, including systemic racism, a lack of quality affordable housing, and widespread poverty. However, the researchers found evidence that the water crisis had a lasting effect on mental health. For example, 41% of respondents said they would feel mental or emotional problems related to their concerns about water pollution. According to the study, Flint residents were more than twice as likely to have major depression, and were twice as likely to have PTSD after deployment, compared to the general population rate in Michigan, the US or the world.

Researchers say the way the water crisis unfolded made Flint residents particularly vulnerable to long-term mental-health effects. A major problem is that decisions by public officials caused a water crisis in 2014, when they diverted the city from the Flint River to untreated water. Even after health workers raised the alarm about high levels of lead in children’s blood, officials misled the public by insisting on keeping the water safe. “The feeling that the community isn’t being cared for, or is in fact being abandoned, is an addition of stress,” says Aaron Reuben, co-author of the new study and postdoctoral scholar at Duke University and the Medical University of the South. Add a layer.” Carolina.

Lack of resources can also add to anxiety. Lottie Ferguson, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Flint, said that food insecurity Has made it difficult for residents to eat a healthy diet rich in foods reduce the effects of lead poisoning, Ferguson, who worked in Flint during the crisis and whose children were exposed to leadership, says she felt for parents who didn’t have the same resources as her family. “I was more upset and more hurt for parents who didn’t have access to the resources to ensure their children’s futures,” she says, explaining why mistrust of authorities is still common in Flint. Is.

To complicate the situation even more: the water crisis dragged on for a long time. Although the water supply was switched back to its original source in October 2015, lead levels had not dropped below the federal limit until January 2017. This leaves Flint residents with a lasting sense of uncertainty about their health and safety. “It wasn’t like a hurricane that came and went, and then you rebuild,” says Lauren Tompkins, former vice president of clinical operations at Genesee Health System, a nonprofit health care organization in Flint. She coordinated the emergency mental health resources available to residents in response to the crisis. “It took years to fix the pipe. So you’re in this state of constant, for a long time, of anxiety.”

In many ways, the water crisis is not over yet. For example, researchers described Increased hyperactivity and delayed learning in children. Residents still don’t know for sure how deeply they and their families were affected by the polluted water, and whether it caused the health problems they are experiencing now. They also do not know whether new health-related issues will suddenly emerge in the future.

This happened after a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, as study co-author Dean G. Kilpatrick, a professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina who researches PTSD and traumatic events. Although the local people were not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, fearing that they will cause permanent mental health damage. “If something is invisible, tasteless, you can’t really tell whether you’ve got it,” Kilpatrick says. “Even the notion that you might be exposed to something is, in itself, enough to drive long-term mental-health effects.”

With the help of external funding and support, members of the Flint community expanded mental-health offerings in Flint during the initial crisis and in the years that followed. However, only 34.8% of respondents said they had been offered mental-health services for symptoms related to the crisis, although 79.3% of those offered the services took advantage of them. The study’s authors argue that their findings indicate that Flint still needs a greater mental health response from local, state and federal government. There are also important lessons for other cities, including Jackson, facing a water crisis – such as how important it is to provide clear, accurate information to the public.

Overall, says Reuben, it is essential to recognize that what happened in Flint can have lasting effects on mental health. In Jackson, “we want the community to know we’re thinking about them, and we’re going to be thinking about their mental health,” he says. “Not only does the faucet get cleaned once, but potentially years later.”

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