Friday, June 25, 2010

Fishermen's Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma

An article today from Mother Jones describes the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to provide rebuilding services to Katrina-ravaged St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, as well as offer "psychological rebuilding" through a wellness and mental-health center. Since the oil spill started, the organization has been looking to vastly expand its services to meet the area's latest mental-health crisis: the unrelenting depression falling on families living and working on the Gulf Coast.

There are a myriad of things that contribute to domestic violence. One of the most common that we cite are a batterer's loss of control in others areas of his life, which causes him to seek to recapture that control where he can. People who feel out of control also often turn to alcohol use, which lowers inhibitions and might contribute to some people using violence who otherwise would not have considered it. Both of these things could be contributing factors to the rise in domestic violence seen in gulf areas since the spill.

"My husband's goin' drinkin'. My husband comes home and screams at me. The food's not good enough, the floors aren't clean enough. That's why I'm here, for him to take it out on me."

In next-door Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence calls came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend. Cathy Butler, the woman who takes the calls, isn't ready to attribute the spike entirely to the oil spill; it's a hundred degrees outside, after all, and calls always increase a bit in the summer. The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they've had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill. Whatever the cause, Butler is sure it's gonna get worse soon. "The more people are out of work, the more trouble we're gonna have," she says. "Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we're gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I'm gonna see a definite increase." She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.

Michelle tries to offer some perspective to the women by explaining that their husbands' anger is just a reaction against helplessness. He can't fix this, but he can fight.
These are not men who are accustomed to seeking therapy and, indeed, most therapy services in the area are aimed at the wives, hoping that some of the calm and coping strategies will make it back to the husbands. But when we as a culture place a man's value in how well he provides monetarily for his family, we cannot see that taken from him and expect him to know how to handle it alone. Anger, loss, depression, anxiety, and many other emotions are to be expected. That doesn't make family violence OK, but it does underscore the need for us to take men's emotional needs seriously, and to offer mental health services to them as well. If anything, they should be offering counseling to men to protect the wives, not the other way around.

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