Researchers find long-term mental health issues following Michigan water crisis

Researchers found a prevalence of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in Flint, Mich., five years after the onset of the water crisis, according to a Sept. 20 report in JAMA Network Open.

Environmental disasters, like the water crisis, are potentially traumatic events that may precipitate long-term psychiatric disorders. The study found the water crisis was associated with acute elevations in mental health problems in the Flint community.

A cross-sectional household probability sample survey of 1,970 adults living in Flint, Mich., during the water crisis found that more than one-fifth met the criteria for presumptive past-year depression, nearly one-quarter for past-year presumptive posttraumatic stress disorder, and more than one-tenth for both disorders five years after water crisis. 

Only 34.8 percent were ever offered mental health services to assist with water-crisis-related psychiatric symptoms, and 79.3 percent who were offered services utilized them.

The findings suggest that public-works environmental disasters have large-scale, long-term psychological effects. Additionally, the study found the Flint community may require expanded mental health services to meet continued psychiatric needs. Furthermore, national disaster preparedness and response programs should consider psychiatric outcomes, according to the report. 

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