TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: What will the BP oil spill cost? If you thought of a dollar figure, well, you’re really not even close to the real costs of this life-changing event. And the psychological toll, it’s going to be unknowably big. The state of Louisiana is asking BP to help pay for mental health counseling for residents hit by the spill.
There is a New Orleans call center called VIA LINK that tells people where they can get counseling and other disaster relief services. Richard LaPratt runs the place. Richard, welcome to the program.
Richard LaPratt: Hey, thank you.
Radke: Since the oil started leaking, your agency has logged 1,600 phone calls, but they’re for logistical help. Only 15 people asked for mental health counseling, so why do you think there will be more of a need for this kind of counseling?
LaPratt: There’s a lot of different factors into play right now, where the oil is pretty much starting to come onto the beaches. It’s not something that’s directly affecting individuals, as such, but the oil is affecting the fishing business, it’s affecting the small livelihoods that you see of the fishermen in the area, and it’s going to start affecting them even more as it creeps more and more onto the beaches, and creeps more and more into the lives of the individuals that live here in this state.
Radke: And how is that slow-moving nature of the problem, how is that psychologically different for people?
LaPratt: Well, if you look at it in comparison to Katrina, Katrina came in and was gone within a couple of days. People were able to recover, they were able to see what was actually happening, they were actually able to look and rebuild and take a look at the steps that were needed to be taken to make sure their future was actually going to be secure.
With this slow-moving disaster, it’s on-going, it’s almost torture to watch every single day, a new aspect of this disaster hitting our coast, hitting and affecting the people and the businesses and the tourism in the area. It’s constantly here, and it’s constantly getting worse. So, mentally, that drains individuals. After a while, you start getting burnt out on hearing about it, you start getting burnt out on the effects that it’s having on your lives. It starts getting to be a complete disaster, both for physical, as well as for mental health needs.
Radke: What kind of mental health counseling do you think people will need?
LaPratt: You’re going to start seeing more family and children support needed, that would be more counseling for families. You’re going to start seeing more domestic violence issues, as well as substance abuse issues that may occur from those individuals that are most affected. You may see crime increase because of the fact that these individuals have nothing else available to them, or they may be desperate. You’re going to start seeing an agitation as well as an escalation of these types of events, as we creep further and further into this long-term disaster.
Radke: A lot of the people suffering the most are commercial fishers, is that a culture you’ve dealt with much?
LaPratt: The fishermen, you know, they basically rely upon their own, they have their own community. This is a very proud community. Now all of a sudden, this disaster’s come into play and affected their entire lives and their livelihoods, and many of these individuals have never reached out for help before. They may or may not know where to go. They may or may not know what is available to them if they should reach out. So there’s a bit of confusion on the part of the population, as well as kind of the worry or the impatience with what’s actually going to be given to them. You’re starting to see the fishing areas being restricted, you’re starting to see various aspects of life here in the state of Louisiana being directly affected. There’s a lot of unknowns here, and those are the things that are really going to start paring away at the human mind, if you will.
Radke: I’ve been talking with Richard LaPratt. He directs the VIA LINK call center in New Orleans. They help people find logistical support and mental health counseling after disasters. Richard, good luck to you.
LaPratt: Thank you very much.
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