The physical scars that Hurricane Ida left on the North Rim aren’t as noticeable as they were immediately after the storm, but mental health studies show that the emotional damage caused by natural disasters, including increased suicides, persist for up to two years. after.
Right after a disaster, people are in survival mode, said Monique Gregoire of NAMI St. Tammany. But 18 to 24 months after the winds have long passed, when things have calmed down, feelings of depression and anxiety often emerge.
That’s why the Northshore Community Foundation has decided to direct a third wave of grants from its Hurricane Ida Relief Fund toward mental health needs, said Executive Director Susan Bonnett Bourgeois.
With an anticipated increase in need but limited mental health care capacity, Bourgeois and Nick Richard of NAMI St. Tammany proposed a new solution: providing free access to an online therapy service.
Called WellConnected, the initiative will use $350,000 over the next year to provide up to 500 people in the parishes of St. Tammany, Washington, Tangipahoa and St. Helena with a 90-day subscription to Talkspace, a large national telemental health platform.
Anyone over the age of 18 and affected by Hurricane Ida is eligible. Groups spread the word through mental health care providers and community programs. More information is available on NAMI St. Tammany’s WellConnected hotline, 985-626-6402, by emailing [email protected] or on its website.
Increase in suicides
Data from Louisiana shows an average increase in suicide deaths of up to 41% following hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, Isaac and even the floods of March 2016. But those at risk are generally not people already clients of the system behavioral health, Bourgeois said.
“They’re not the most obvious of the self-identified customers. They’re not easy to find,” she said.
Help isn’t always easy to find either. The mental health care system can be difficult to navigate, Gregoire said, and it can take weeks to get an appointment.
In contrast, WellConnected means putting people with a therapist within 48 hours. “When people want help, they want help right away,” Gregoire said.
The service does a good job of finding the right fit, Bourgeois said, describing it as almost like Match.com for therapy.
A 90-day subscription will provide two sessions per month, either by phone or videoconference, and unlimited texting. And unlike traditional mental health care, it doesn’t have to be between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“Telehealth has been around for a while, but the pandemic has really kicked it into reality,” Gregoire said. It opens doors for people with transportation problems or who are reluctant to seek care for fear of being stigmatized, she said, noting that only about 40% of people who need help get it each year. .
The program was launched last week.
Bourgeois said additional funds for Hurricane Ida could be used to expand the program if the 500 slots fill up quickly. There may also be other sources of funding that will allow for expansion.
“It’s literally lives”
The program will provide data, with protected information removed, that will be useful in securing more public health dollars, Bouregois said.
The hope is that providing mental health care to 500 people will change post-disaster statistics.
“It’s not a model we’re looking at, it’s literally lives,” Bourgeois said.