Thursday, July 5, 2007

Face #2: The New Orleans' Mental Health Crisis

To view 70 second video in Full-Screen click inside picture, it will take you to YouTube.

Column below:

Duncan Plaza
City Hall
New Orleans, La.
June 2007

Dear Family and Friends--

“Raven, are you hungry?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said in a waning rasp.

Who knows what happened to his clothes, but the hospital gave him scrubs--four days ago.

Usually, scrubs like these are worn outside the hospital by only by chic high school and college kids. They are, in many ways, the new sweatpants. For Raven, however, it had become his wardrobe.

Senator Barack Obama came to New Orleans today. He spoke at the Essence Music Festival, the country’s largest celebration of African American culture.

Obama said everyone should be able to access health care. He didn’t however specifically address the mental health problems of New Orleans. He didn’t go into detail about his plans. But, for the 30,000 in attendance, his candor and general promise seemed to be enough.

I wonder what the next administration will do for the Ravens of New Orleans and the country. In many ways, KATRINA still claims people every day. People like Raven. He didn’t tell me why he was in the hospital. And I must confess, I’m making an assumption that his mental health was less than stable. But in a City where 9 of 10, rich or poor, black or white, have been affected by depression or post-traumatic stress, federal aid is a necessity not a “It’d sure be nice.”

When police find our mentally unstable on the streets, they take them to jail when psychiatric beds are full. And in Post-K NOLA, psychiatric beds have fallen by over 80 percent. This is not a statistic that should be ignored.

Mental health is not as stigmatized in New Orleans as it is in the rest of the country. People are open. People tell stories. And people cry. They say how hard it is. Many are not veiled in secrecy in New Orleans because, “We all went through it,” one of my friends said.

But in a City where it seems the residents are ready to speak; where people are open to their new existence, those trained to help are rare.

The mental illness spectrum in New Orleans is large. Some are unsavable. They have frequent bouts of psychosis. But what about the blue-collar man fighting through what he thinks must be the blues?

Will they come forward? Who knows. Right now, we aren’t prepared even if they wanted to.



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