What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Hurricane Michael’s toll on Florida children’s mental health

People in Florida’s panhandle are still grappling with the devastation from last October’s Hurricane Michael. The most powerful storm to hit the region in history left many residents homeless and in search of aid. Now, children in particular are facing another after effect of the devastation -- mental health issues. Miami Herald reporter Elizabeth Koh joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Hurricane season officially began again this month but for people in the panhandle of Florida it's almost as if it never ended. Hurricane Michael devastated the region last October leaving residents homeless, jobless and in search of government aid and services. But now, children in particular, are feeling another kind of aftereffect — mental health issues. Miami Herald reporter Elizabeth Koh is reporting on that. She joins us now from Tallahassee. Tell me what are some of the things that teachers are seeing in their students?

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    They're seeing a lot of symptoms of depression and anxiety and PTSD. Bay County, which was directly hit by the storm has put together a list of mental health needs that they've been seeing in their students and it's taken a lot of forms.

    We've seen students who start crying just when they start hearing the rain because it reminds them of what the storm sounded like. We've had some extreme cases like a couple of girls coming to school with razor blades and a suicide pact, cutting their wrists open in front of their classmates. They've had children as young as six telling teachers and people at school that they want to kill themselves.

    That's a pretty serious situation that's starting to develop in the panhandle.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And do they have any kind of mental health infrastructure to deal with this at the school level or wider?

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    The school has some mental health resources but what we're seeing in the panhandle after the storm is that those resources aren't enough. So you'll remember the Parkland shooting that happened last year in Florida spurred lawmakers to actually dedicate additional funding to mental health resources in school and some of that funding has actually been helpful, particularly for Bay County. But in terms of funding directly related to Hurricane Michael and the mental health aftereffects, Bay County and other school districts haven't gotten anything for that.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And so when you look across the entire community are adults as well as children suffering some of these long term effects?

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    It's everybody. The panhandle was particularly devastated by the storm. Hurricane Michael was one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the country. So this is something, a real disaster that they were never really anticipating. And you can see it when you just walk around this region.

    There are still trees down. There's still debris in some places and some of that debris may never even be picked up just because there's so much of it. What I've heard from providers in the area is that eight months out after the storm, people are starting to adjust to the fact that this is their new normal. This is when some of these symptoms are starting to set in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know from the school board report, 'basic needs are still not being met for many residents including shelter food water and security.' How is that possible?

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    Well we're looking at a situation where the panhandle is still waiting on a lot of state and federal funding. Keep in mind that a lot of the communities that were hit were already communities that were pretty low in terms of their socio-economic status. We've seen communities for example, like Mexico Beach where their annual budget is completely overwhelmed by the cost of just debris removal, let alone addressing all of these other needs. And given the delays in getting federal funding even passed in Congress, let alone pass down to people at the local level.

    These are people who are still waiting on contractors to help fix their homes, get some of their debris hauled out from their homes backyards. There are people who are dealing with situations where even if their housing is all right maybe their jobs were not all right. And so there is a lot of aftereffects that have continued to snowball since the storm hit.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So I'm assuming that even if a teacher or a school district are able to recruit mental health counselors to be able to come to the area that housing is expensive just because the stock is down?

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    Exactly. Well in Panama City alone we've seen about 70%of housing being damaged or destroyed. The rents on places that are still remaining have gone up almost fourfold. So for someone who is thinking about coming to this area to help fill these huge gaps among mental health providers, the pay is not that high. And where are you going to live?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Elizabeth Koh from the Miami Herald joining us from Tallahassee. Thanks so much.

  • Elizabeth Koh:

    Thanks very much for your time.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest