In a new study, researchers say the experiences of residents of Flint, Michigan, show that environmental disasters like the water crisis can have long-lasting effects on mental health.
Flint residents reported changes in the color, smell and taste of the water shortly after the city used the Flint River as a water source in April 2014. Virginia Tech scientists discovered dangerous amounts of lead in the water.
For the new study, published Tuesday in the JAMA Network Open, nearly 2,000 adults living in Flint during the crisis were asked about their experiences, their psychological symptoms five years after the crisis, and whether they had access to or use between August 2019 of mental health care. and April 2020. Most responses were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Researchers found that 1 in 5 Flint residents met 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 findings from the study conducted five years after the water crisis on Flint residents indicate that Flint residents report extremely high levels of PTSD and depression, exceeding the rates found in post-deployment veterans and the prevalence rates in the US and worldwide,” Angela Moreland-Johnson, one of the authors of the study and an 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 women, and more than half of all respondents identified their race as black or African American.
“Individuals who believed their or their family’s health was moderately or severely harmed by the water crisis were 123% more likely than their peers to have depression, 66% more likely to have PTSD, and 106% more likely to have comorbid depression and PTSD” , the study said.
According to the results, men were 28% less likely than women to meet the criteria for depression, and black residents were offered more mental health care than white residents.
“The Flint community may need comprehensive mental health services to meet ongoing psychiatric needs,” the researchers wrote in the study. “National disaster preparedness and response programs should consider psychiatric outcomes.”
The new study did not examine the mental health of residents in other communities, such as Jackson, Mississippi, which recently experienced its own water crisis. But Moreland-Johnson said the results of the study suggest that people involved in crises like Flint “may experience heightened PTSD and depression.”
The finding is especially relevant for those who experienced a potentially traumatic event before an environmental disaster, because “these past experiences can put them at increased risk for mental health problems, including PTSD and depression.”
Researchers said communication with residents is key.
“Importantly, we found that people who suffered the most damage from the Flint crisis and those who had little faith in the information provided by authorities about water safety were significantly more likely to suffer adverse events half a decade after the crisis. mental health effects,” the study author wrote. Salma Abdalla, a research fellow at 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 city residents recently told CNN they still don’t trust the water.
“I’ll never drink the water again,” said Audra Bell, whose family buys about 10 boxes of bottled water a week for cooking, brushing teeth and making coffee and for them and their dogs to drink.
Their neighbor LeeAnne Walters says she will do the same.
“There has been no justice in Flint. There has been no restoration of trust with the government as they have done nothing to do so. So the voices remain unheard and people have severe PTSD when it comes to water. I don’t know if there will ever be justice for Flint and the harm done to the people,” she told CNN.
Bell said the crisis has been tough on families and it was not an easy decision to stay in Flint.
Her advice to the residents of Jackson: “Just do your best and keep your family safe.”
Water is back on in Jackson after historic floods shut down the water treatment plant where the pumps had already failed. But problems for residents can linger.
Abdalla said the research in Flint “highlights the importance of early action after environmental disasters such as the current Jackson MS water crisis.”
“It demonstrates the importance of linking efforts to repair the water supply system with clear communication by officials to restore confidence in the safety of the system. Efforts should also include mental health care for those who need it,” Abdalla said.
CNN reached out to the city of Jackson to find out what options residents have for mental health support, but received no immediate response. In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health said community mental health centers can provide therapy, peer support and intensive outpatient programs to people who need psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment.
In a statement to CNN, study author Aaron Reuben, a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the new research “indicates that environmental disasters in public works 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 we are failing our citizens by meeting this basic need. We believe that the Flint residents who have lived through the water crisis have been remarkably resilient – and yet there is still a significant, unmet need for mental health services to address the psychological impact of the event, which is reflected in very high rates of diagnosed depression and PTSD across the Flint community,” Reuben said.
“The lesson for communities like Jackson, MS, is not to overlook psychological harm and not to assume that just because community members are resilient, they cannot take advantage of services to heal the psychological scars of a prolonged water crisis.” to deal with.”