By Mark Schleifstein, Staff writer, The Advocate
Sunday, March 29, 2020 – New Orleans, LA
A combination of stress, trauma and depression triggered by the coronavirus pandemic after the virus abates is likely to increase what’s already a high number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among Louisiana residents, who have been hammered by natural and man-made disasters in the past, according to a behavioral epidemiologist at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health.
Associate professor Ariane Rung bases that conclusion in part on a 2019 study she co-authored that found that women in mostly rural areas of seven southeastern Louisiana parishes continued to experience symptoms of trauma and PTSD for years after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill at levels greater than the national average.
That research found that 12.7% of women in the study scored at or above symptom levels associated with PTSD, compared to previous studies estimating nationwide prevalence rates of only 3.1% for men and 5.3% for women.
The study pointed out that the majority of women directly exposed to either spilled oil or the economic effects of the disaster also had experienced numerous previous traumas, ranging from hurricanes like Katrina and Isaac to gun violence and sexual assault.
Now, the effects of the pandemic are being added, Rung said Tuesday.
”The population that we’ve been studying are women in southern Louisiana, and they have already had a lot of exposure to trauma,” she said. ”So cumulative trauma becomes the issue, and are they likely to have some mental health ramifications from it? That probably goes without saying.”
But the effects of the coronavirus outbreak also are quite different in how they add stress. First, because ”exposure” to the virus includes the fear of catching it, the incessant drumbeat of news stories describing the risk, the
”shelter-in-place” and social distancing rules forcing people inside, the potential loss of jobs and income, and, of course, the potential that you or a loved one will catch the disease or die from it.
And unlike with Katrina or other hurricanes, or even the oil spill, the effects of the virus are so widespread that traditional assistance from others outside of south Louisiana are less likely to occur, she said.
And the rules limiting social contact, contact with family members and with neighbors are likely to disrupt their traditional role in staving off the stress, anxiety and depression linked to PTSD, Rung said.