Years after the water crisis, Flint residents reported high rates of depression, PTSD

Years after the water crisis, Flint residents reported high rates of depression, PTSD

Flint residents reported changes in water color, smell and taste soon after the city turned to the Flint River as a water source in April 2014. Virginia scientists Tech have detected dangerous levels of lead in the water.
For the new study, published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, nearly 2,000 adults living in Flint throughout the crisis were asked about their experiences, psychological symptoms five years after the crisis, and whether they had accessed or used mental health services between August 2019 and April 2020. Most responses were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers found that 1 in 5 Flint residents met the criteria for suspected major depression, 1 in 4 for suspected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more than 1 in 10 for both disorders.

“Our results from the study of Flint residents five years after the water crisis indicate that Flint residents report extremely high levels of PTSD and depression, which are higher than the rates seen in older people. post-deployment combatants and prevalence rates in the United States and around the world,” Angela Moreland-Johnson, one of the study’s authors and assistant professor at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, told CNN in an email.

More than half of those surveyed were female, and more than half of all respondents identified their race as black or African American.

“People who thought their health or that of their family had been moderately or severely affected by the water crisis were 123% more likely than their peers to suffer from depression, 66% more likely to have PTSD and 106 % more likely to have comorbid depression and PTSD,” the study states.

According to the results, men were 28% less likely than women to meet criteria for depression, and black residents were offered more mental health services than white residents.

“The Flint community may require expanded mental health services to meet ongoing psychiatric needs,” the researchers wrote in the study. “National disaster preparedness and response programs should consider psychiatric outcomes.”

Lessons learned from Flint

The new study did not examine the mental health of residents of other communities such as Jackson, Mississippi, which recently experienced its own water crisis. But Moreland-Johnson said the study results suggest people involved in seizures like Flint “may experience increased PTSD and depression.”

The finding is particularly relevant for those who have experienced a potentially traumatic event prior to an environmental disaster, as “these prior experiences may put them at increased risk for mental health issues, including PTSD and depression.”

For Jackson and Flint, the water may be back but the confidence is gone

The researchers said communication with residents is key.

“Importantly, we found that the people who suffered the greatest harm from the Flint crisis and those who had little confidence in the information provided by the authorities on water safety were significantly more likely to experience adverse mental health effects half a decade after the crisis,” study author Salma Abdalla, a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health, told CNN in an email.

Eight years after Flint’s water crisis began — even with new pipes and a different water source — some townspeople recently told CNN they still don’t trust the water .

“I will never drink water again,” said Audra Bell, whose family buys about 10 cases of bottled water a week for cooking, brushing their teeth and making coffee and for themselves and their dogs to drink.

Their neighbor LeeAnne Walters says she does the same.

“There was no justice in Flint. There has been no rebuilding of trust with the government because it has done nothing to do so. I don’t know if there will ever be justice when it comes to Flint and the damage that was done to people,” she told CNN.

Bell said the crisis has been difficult for families and choosing to stay in Flint has not been an easy decision.

His advice to the people of Jackson: “Do your best and protect your family.”

The “long tail” of public works environmental disasters

Water is back in Jackson after a historic flood destroyed the water treatment plant where pumps had already broken down. But problems for residents may persist.
The EPA is investigating the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, as residents remain under a boil water advisory.  Here's what it would take to end it

Abdalla said the research in Flint “highlights the importance of early action in the wake of environmental disasters such as the current Jackson MS water crisis.”

“This shows the importance of coupling efforts to fix the water supply system with clear communication from officials to restore confidence in the safety of the system. Efforts should also include mental health remedies for those who have it. need,” Abdalla said.

CNN reached out to the city of Jackson to find out what mental health options are available to residents, but did not immediately respond. In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health said community mental health centers can provide therapy, peer support and intensive outpatient programs for people in need of psychiatric care and addiction treatment.

In a statement to CNN, study author Aaron Reuben, a postdoctoral researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the new research “indicates that public works environmental disasters have a long tail, with psychological damage that can last for many years if left untreated.”

“Simply put, clean water is a requirement for health, well-being, productivity and dignity – and our citizens are failing us to meet this basic necessity. We believe that the people of Flint who have lived the water crisis have been remarkably resilient – and yet there is still a significant unmet need for mental health services to deal with the psychological impacts of the event, reflected in very high rates of depression and diagnosable PTSD in the Flint community,” said Reuben.

“The lesson for communities like Jackson, MS, is not to overlook the psychological wounds and not assume that just because community members are resilient that they could not benefit from services to address the psychological scars of ‘a long-term water crisis.’

CNN’s Sara Sidner and Meridith Edwards contributed to this report.

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