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The Worried Well 

Within our chaotic and ever-changing mental health world, a new group of people has emerged. Mental health professionals have dubbed them the "worried well." These folks have settled back into their homes. They have established themselves in their workplaces. Their children are situated in schools. Their fights with insurance companies and the Road Home are (hopefully) long over. But when you talk to them, you see that the light — that little twinkle in the eye — is still gone. Their shoulders are a bit slumped, and the spring in their step is more like a shuffle. They do not venture out often. Socialization seems a bit too painful to engage in. They have no vacation plans; they seem to live day by day. When asked "How are you?" they often respond with a hesitant "OK."

If given the opportunity to do a quick mental health assessment on folks who fit the category of the worried well, professionals would probably find them drinking more than usual (often alone), participating in few recreational activities and saying that they feel tired all the time.

They worry about what the next day will bring.

They worry that they will lose their jobs.

They worry about an unexpected catastrophe.

They worry that all the energy that they have invested in rebuilding their lives will be pulled out from under them.

They worry that they are not properly prepared for another disaster.

They obsess about what is still not fixed as opposed to what has been fixed.

They just worry — and they worry all the time.

Unfortunately, the worried well seem not to understand that this affliction can be fixed with a little therapy. Often, we only see the worried well when they become "worried sick," and this can trigger a horrific crisis (as we have seen recently in the news). Once one becomes worried sick, the resources available to that individual diminish significantly. New Orleans still suffers from a lack of acute mental health treatment options. Mental health beds continue to be scarce in all parts of the metro area. But, if the worried well would take preventive measures now, then a crisis requiring acute intervention can be all but alleviated.

Currently, the city is rich in programs to assist the worried well, and we hear more programs are on the way. There is a "2-1-1" 24-hour crisis line manned by live counselors, all the major mental health clinics are up and running, and many agencies are providing in-home therapy. Louisiana Spirit, a home-health mental health program, has just received approval to provide services through the next hurricane season. The new state secretary of Health and Hospitals, Alan Levine, has come in with gusto — giving immediate attention to the city's mental health crisis. The Metropolitan Human Services District, the city's mental health umbrella, is undergoing a major overhaul. All of these are bright lights in the otherwise fragmented mental health-care system.

Put simply, the worried well just need to take the plunge, ask for help, and give it a try. They need to understand that true joy can return to their lives. Doubtless everyone has suffered, but to let suffering continue to rob one of peace and tranquility is, well, crazy.

New Orleanians are renowned for their laissez-faire way of life and "don't worry, be happy" mentality. The city encourages this in all of us through its gifts of music, food, the arts, many forms of entertainment, the whimsical nature of life itself here, and even in the warm, moist, tropical air. As the New Orleans continues on a path toward wellness, so must its people.

The journey of recovery is exhausting. But once completed, the rewards are immeasurable. To the worried well, your recovery is not yet complete. I urge you to finish the process, seek assistance and, as you did with your homes, "put on that final coat of paint." Then, perhaps, you can sit back, smile and enjoy the moment without worry. You deserve it.

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