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HomeUSA newsNew Orleans program helps treat long-term post-hurricane season stress

New Orleans program helps treat long-term post-hurricane season stress


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The 10 women gathered on yoga mats in a New Orleans suburb, the lights dimmed.

“I’d like to invite you to close your eyes,” instructor Stephanie Osborne said soothingly from the front of the room. The only other noises were the hum of the air conditioner and the distant sounds of children playing in a nearby field.

For the next hour, the women focused on various mindfulness exercises designed to help them deal with the stress of everyday life.

The six-week mindfulness program in Slidell, Louisiana, is the brainchild of Kentrell Jones, executive director of East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity, who was concerned about the health of her colleagues and others affected by Hurricane Ida, which it swept through this region east of New Orleans last year.


Participants meet for one hour once a week for six weeks beginning with the inaugural session this fall and plans for future sessions next year.

Potential participants, who were required to live in the parish during Hurricane Ida, completed a survey asking questions such as whether they had problems with lack of sleep or paying bills or had to move since the hurricane. They do not have to be clients of Habitat for Humanity’s housing programs, although some are.

Jones said the organization’s clients have struggled to be displaced from their homes, trying to complete repairs while negotiating insurance and living through another hurricane season in which the calendar is full of anniversaries of previous storms and everyone is watching. to the television to see the weather. alerts

A family she works with had to move to Mississippi after Ida while their tree-damaged home was being repaired. Just as the repairs were completed, her husband died of a heart attack.

“There are people who are stressed,” he emphasized.

Participants in a six-week mindfulness course organized by East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity and the Northshore Community Foundation gather in Slidell, Louisiana.
(Kentrell Jones via AP)

The show addresses a growing concern: the long-term stress that extreme weather events like hurricanes can place on the people who experience them. People who work in hurricane-affected areas often talk about the stress that the long rebuilding process can place on people and the anxiety that comes with hurricane season.

In late August, as the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Ida loomed, New Orleans’ emergency preparedness social media sites reminded residents of something called the “anniversary effect,” which could trigger feelings of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. After Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September, two men in their 70s took their own lives after seeing their losses.

In the North Coast region of Louisiana, local mental health officials note that hurricanes are often followed by an increase in suicides in subsequent years. Nick Richard, who heads the local branch of the National Alliance for Mental Health, said that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, suicides increased by 46% in 2007. Other events such as Hurricane Gustav in 2008 or the floods of 2016 have shown jumps. Similar.

Research also suggests that extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, can have long-term effects on the health of survivors. A Tulane University study found that hospitalizations for heart attacks were three times higher after Katrina than before the storm.

Another study published earlier this year looked at death rates for counties that experienced a tropical cyclone over a 30-year period, from 1988 to 2018. The research found that there were increases in certain types of deaths, including cardiovascular disease and respiratory in six months. after landfall, suggesting that often tabulated death tolls in the first few weeks after a storm might be undercounted.


The study’s lead author, Robbie Parks, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, said that while major hurricanes like this year’s Ian get a lot of attention, his research suggests that repeated attacks with more weak also come at a cost. He worries that the full scope of events like hurricanes is not being captured. It’s an “incredible challenge” just counting the dead after a hurricane, he said.

“What if someone has a heart attack in the week after a hurricane?” he said. “So you’re getting into subjective territory.”

One of the women taking part in the inaugural meditation course is Louise Mace from Slidell. She had just opened her home decor store when Katrina swept through it in 2005. Then last year, winds from Hurricane Ida and a tornado damaged her roof; she has been fighting with her insurance company ever since she lives in a trailer.

The stress has affected Mace’s health with his blood pressure going up and down. Her doctor recommended meditation, and then she met Jones, who recruited her for the course. Mace said that he helped her learn techniques to deal with stress and also to know that she is not alone.


“You think you’re dealing. You think you’re okay. You’re not. Listening to other people made it better,” Mace said.

The program is funded by the Northshore Community Foundation. Susan Bonnett, the foundation’s president and CEO, says that in the immediate aftermath of events like hurricanes, the foundation would receive funding requests around traditional post-disaster needs, like damaged roofing sheets.

But the foundation also noted funding requests for mental health services months after the storm. At the same time, there was a shortage of mental health services in the region, so the organization began looking at creative ways like Kentrell’s mindfulness approach to address issues they knew would arise after events like Ida.

Mindfulness classes are designed to develop skills that participants can use to address any stress in their lives, whether it is related to the weather or something else like a conflict with a family member.

Instructor Stephanie Osborne says people don’t always realize the mental strain extreme weather can cause.


Take the lead up to Hurricane Ian, for example, when it was not yet clear that the storm was going to hit Florida and not Louisiana. Some of the women gathered outside the community room after class and talked about whether they needed to book a hotel room in Baton Rouge or buy gas for the generator. All that backlog takes its toll, Osborne said.

“There’s an anxiety, a stress around that, especially for people who are struggling financially,” he said. And if people aren’t aware of how much anxiety they have inside, it can affect things like their health or their jobs: “It starts to manifest itself in other ways.”


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