The Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES) has revealed the results of three years of research mapping New Orleans' mental health crisis — specifically, emotional distress and trauma among children following Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, and how those factors influence adolescents' "sexual risk." The report ("What Puts Youth at Risk?") showed results from an Emotional Wellness Screener. It was supported by Believe in Youth NOLA and the Office of Adolescent Health.
Results from 2012-2014 showed "high levels of trauma and adverse mental health outcomes," with more than half of the children in the survey saying they knew someone who had been murdered. The survey also revealed that 20 percent showed symptoms of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime, while 14 percent already have PTSD — figures that are double the national average. Nineteen percent of respondents showed signs of suicidal ideation.
To date, more than 1,100 child- ren (aged 10-16, from fifth to 11th grades) have been screened at 19 schools, two churches and nine community organizations for stress and anxiety, PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation and exposure to domestic and family-level violence. More than 86 percent of children screened were African-American, while 4 percent were white and 2.5 percent identified as biracial, and less than 1 percent were Asian or American Indian.
The latest survey — screening 527 children interviewed in person from August 2013 to August 2014 — found 70 percent of children reported feeling stressed, and 49 percent worried about being shot or stabbed. Nearly 40 percent of children reported witnessing domestic violence — more than a quarter of those respondents screened positive for lifetime PTSD.
According to the report, "young people exposed to trauma" and with untreated PTSD are likely to engage in "risky sexual behavior." Louisiana has the second-highest rate of gonorrhea infection and fourth-highest rate of chlamydia infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in the 13-24 age range account for nearly 70 percent of gonorrhea infections and more than 70 percent of chlamydia infections. — ALEX WOODWARD