In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, a team of researchers led by Duke University investigated the long-term psychological ramifications on Flint, Michigan residents five years after the Flint drinking water was proclaimed lead-free, which occurred on January 24, 2017. This came after tens of thousands of Flint children and adults were exposed to disinfection products, unsafe levels of bacteria, a neurotoxicant, and lead when the city of Flint switched the source of its water supply on April 25, 2014, from the Detroit River and Lake Huron to the Flint River and failed to properly treat the water supply. The results of the unsafe drinking water put these children and adults at larger risk for mental health problems, cognitive defects, and additional health problems later in life.
"We know that large-scale natural or human-caused disasters can trigger or exacerbate depression and PTSD," said Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Medical University of South Carolina, and a co-author on the study. Dr. Kilpatrick noted that there was good evidence of increased rates of mental health problems in the Flint community during the first years of the crisis. "What we did not know until now was the extent to which Flint residents continued to have mental health problems at the clinical diagnosis level five years after the crisis began."
One of the most alarming findings of the study was that individuals with previous physical or sexual assault were greater than three times as likely to experience depression and greater than six times as likely to have PTSD than individuals without this history.
"This highlights the importance of considering the cumulative effects of prior exposure to traumatic events when evaluating the effects of environmental disasters on mental health," said Kilpatrick.
Sources: JAMA Network Open
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