Mental Health Tips for Managing Gulf Oil Spill Stress

Mental Health Tips for Managing Gulf Oil Spill Stress


Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been designated as the worst oil spill in United States history, making it one of the most significant technological disasters to affect our community in recent years. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill will have far-reaching effects for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in terms of environment, health and economic viability for many years. A large-scale disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill can impact communities and individuals in a number of ways. Tulane University is engaged in ongoing response and recovery efforts by providing assistance in the areas of the Environment, Energy and Health.

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Tulane School of Medicine is committed to offering assistance and expertise in behavioral health as one component of its strategic response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. The Tulane Department of Psychiatry includes experts in behavioral health as well as national and international experts in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress. Through community outreach efforts, healthcare delivery and ongoing research and training, the Department of Psychiatry is committed to assisting the local community recover from the ongoing impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

The Biopsychosocial Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill:

  • The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was a maritime accident that has become an ecological, economic and psychosocial crisis for affected communities.
  • Coastal communities across the Gulf region rely on healthy wetlands, marshes and fisheries for their livelihood. Commercial and recreational fishing is a way of life here that has existed for generations. The long-term effects of the oil spill on the culture of the Gulf Coast region is unprecedented.
  • The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster has led to bans on fishing and a loss of tourism dollars, thereby exacerbating the economic pressure felt by many residents still struggling to recover from catastrophic hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina. Many communities are already experiencing significant increases in unemployment and financial strain.
  • The oil spill disaster and clean-up efforts threaten fragile ecosystems including fish and wildlife. Health-related concerns about the effects of the oil spill and chemicals used to clean up the oil spill are prevalent.
  • Research from environmental disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill demonstrate the significant mental health consequences of such an event. Studies show that individuals with greater exposure to the oil spill had more symptoms of emotional distress and were more likely to meet diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric disorder.

How is the oil spill affecting you?

    If you or someone you know lives in a coastal community or is directly affected by the oil spill you may be experiencing a range of emotions. You may feel sad, helpless, overwhelmed, worried, anxious or angry. You may be having trouble sleeping, eating or be bothered by nightmares or upsetting thoughts and images that come to mind. It may be difficult for you to perform your usual activities. Young children may seem upset, distracted, or feel out of sorts. You may have strong feelings now or you may not notice any changes until some time has passed. Stress can change how you act and feel around your family and friends. These are all normal responses to stress. With the help of family, friends and community support, most people gradually feel better as time passes.

What can you do to cope?

  • Follow a normal routine as much as possible.
  • Eat healthy regular meals.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Exercise and stay active.
  • Do something positive in your community to help others. 
  • Ask for and accept help and support from others. 
  • Accept and express your feelings.
  • Limit the time you spend around the oil spill and its effects, including reports on the television, radio, newspaper or Internet.

When should you ask for more help?

    Sometimes people need some extra help to cope with and recover from a life-changing experience. People directly affected by the oil spill disaster, young children, people who have been through other traumatic experiences and people with other mental health problems are more likely to need additional help. Ask for help if you experience any of the following:

  • Are unable to care for yourself, your children or your home.
  • Are unable to do your job or go to school.
  • Use alcohol or drugs to cope.
  • Feel sad, down, or depressed for more than two weeks.
  • Think about harming someone else, hurting yourself or taking your own life.
  • Feel very fearful or worried much of the time.
  • Have unpleasant thoughts that won't go away.

Where should you turn for more help?

  • Your doctor or health clinic.
  • Your church or religious organization in your community.
  • For mental or behavioral counseling in your area, see the following list of resources.