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


In a new study, researchers say the experiences of residents of Flint, Michigan, show that environmental disasters like the water crisis can have long-term consequences for mental health.

Flint residents reported changes in the color, smell and taste of their water shortly after the city switched to the Flint River as its water source in April 2014. After the crackdown outraged by residents and reports of children with mysterious illnesses, tests by the US Environmental Protection Agency and scientists at Virginia Tech 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 during the crisis were asked about their experiences, their psychological symptoms five years after the crisis, and whether they had access to or used mental health services between August 2019 and April 2020. Most responses were gathered 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 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 rates found in post-deployment veterans and US and global prevalence rates,” Angela Moreland. Johnson, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s National Crime Victim Research and Treatment Center, told CNN in an email.

More than half of the people surveyed were women, and more than half of the respondents identified their race as black or African American.

“People who believed that their or their family’s health was moderately or greatly 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 said.

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 continued psychiatric need,” 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 study’s findings suggest that people involved in crises like Flint “may experience an increase in PTSD and depression.”

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

Researchers said communication with residents is key.

“Importantly, people who suffered the greatest harm from the Flint crisis and those who had little confidence in the information provided by authorities about water safety were significantly more likely to experience adverse mental health outcomes half a decade after the crisis,” said the study’s 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 residents of the city 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 cases of bottled water a week for cooking, brushing teeth and making coffee and for them and their their dogs

Her neighbor LeeAnne Walters says she does the same.

“There’s been no justice in Flint. There’s been no restoration of trust with the government because they’ve done nothing to do it. So voices aren’t being heard and people have severe PTSD when they it’s about water. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be justice for Flint and the damage that’s been done to people,” he told CNN.

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

His advice to Jackson residents: “Do the best you can and protect your family.”

Water is back on in Jackson after historic flooding washed out the water treatment plant where pumps were already failing. But problems for residents may linger.

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

“It shows the importance of joining 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 resources to those who they need it,” Abdalla said.

CNN reached out to the city of Jackson to find out what mental health support options residents have, but did not immediately hear back. In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health said community mental health centers can offer therapy, peer support and intensive outpatient programs for 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 public works environmental disasters have a long tail, with psychological damage that can continue 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 to meet this basic need. We believe that the residents of Flint who experiencing the water crisis have been remarkably resilient, but there is still a large and unmet need for mental health services to address the psychological impacts of the event, which are reflected in very high rates of diagnosis. depression and PTSD throughout the Flint community,” Reuben said.

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

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