Studies continue to show that people of all ages, races and backgrounds who were victims of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina are suffering from stress and depression. Just last week, a study by a Tulane University researcher and sociologist analyzed the levels of stress experienced by those affected by Katrina.

In an effort to help people deal with stress, depression, loss and other emotions brought about by the storms, the Louisiana Department of Health – Office of Mental Health has received funding from the federal government to provide crisis counseling to people in need.

According to Dr. Anthony Speier, disaster mental health director for the DHH’s Office of Mental Health, the Louisiana Spirit program provides supportive counseling to assist people with the trauma, grief and feelings of loss they are now experiencing.

“We recognize that people who are facing the trauma of hurricanes Katrina and Rita can recover … but that some interventions are necessary to allow them to once again contribute to their families and communities,” he said. “Through Louisiana Spirit, we are working with social service agencies throughout the state to provide the necessary counseling to assist people who are now experiencing added stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed.”

John Daniel, deputy executive director of Louisiana Spirit, added that those seeking services from Louisiana Spirit are afforded complete confidentially.

“We recognize that many people who need crisis counseling sometimes do not take that step because they are concerned about the stigma associated with mental health problems. I want to assure those who are in need that this service will not result in a medical record in their name being established,” Daniel said.

Daniel said Louisiana Spirit has hundreds of trained professionals throughout the state who are working with people who have been displaced.

“A call to Louisiana Spirit can result in an immediate referral to a crisis counselor,” he said. “We will also provide education and information for people who might just need to talk to someone.

Louisiana Spirit is funded through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These grants, though, do not pay for clinical treatments such as hospitalizations and other intensive and long term treatment interventions.

Individuals in need of crisis counseling can call Louisiana Spirit toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. Callers can expect to speak with counselors who will then make appropriate referrals for counseling and other services.