Mental health experts have said that New Orleans seems to be going throuogh a near-epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder of an intensity rarely seen in the US.
Suicide rates have tripled rates that existed before hurricane Katrina struck, 10 months ago. To make matters worse the local mental health system has almost collapsed completely leaving the police department to deal with the large number of emotionally disturbed residents.
Jeffrey Rouse, the deputy coroner in New Orleans who deals with psychiatric cases called attention to the annual rate of suicides of more than 26 per 100,000 in the months after Katrina. The city has so far reported 12 official suicides in the city but according to Rouse the real number was still higher, because many self-inflicted deaths remained officially unclassified or were wrongly described as accidents.
The administrator of the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Charles Curie said, "The scope of this disaster has been unprecedented. We've had great concerns about substance abuse and mental health needs being at levels we had not seen before."
New Orleans has become a city where thousands of people live amid ruins stretching for kilometres. With piling garbage, soaring crime rates the National Guard is back in New Orleans patrolling streets which the police have admitted it cannot handle alone. With reminders of death are everywhere, the emotional toll is becoming clear only now.
As doctors and researchers have pointed out several people who were not at risk of suicide have seen their lives eroded by feelings of hopelessness, sadness and stress-related illness.