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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

It's being called a mental health model for areas that have seen disasters. Local psychiatrists created a team treatment program for physical and mental health, for people who most need it in Louisiana. And it's making a difference.

Two disasters that made world news were right in Alicia Terre's backyard.

'Most of my family lost everything. My dad lost everything. He lived in Chalmette. My uncle had about 15 horses. He lost them all,' said Terre, 25, who is a veterinary technician and office manager in St. Bernard Parish.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010, changed people's lives, their homes, jobs and social interactions. That happened to so many of her family members and friends.

'I had quit smoking cigarettes and I just got very, very nervous, anxious, started breaking down. A lot of things from my past were coming up,' said Terre, who has started smoking again and wants to quit.

But a free program with psychiatrists from LSU Health Sciences Center is now changing Alicia's, and many other's, lives for the better. Primary care doctors had nowhere to send local patients for mental and behavior treatment. Now they do.

'Very often depression or anxiety presents as actual physical complaints. So people say they have stomach problems, or headaches, and that's very common in primary care. We see a strong associated between the mental health symptoms and physical. And as we see the mental health symptoms get better, we see the physical health symptoms get better as well,' said Dr. John Wells, an LSUHSC psychiatrist.

'In fact if one does not treat the mental health symptoms, there is good data to show that physical health worsens too. Diabetes can worsen. Asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure,' explained Dr. Howard Osofsky, Chairman of the LSUHSC Department of Psychiatry.

Doctors say they see a lot of mental health complaints in St. Bernard, ranging from constant worry or feeling overwhelmed about simple things, to those who are suicidal. Before this clinic, people would just be in and out of a hospital.

'We have seen remarkable differences,' added Dr. Osofsky.

'It's definitely helping, especially having somebody to talk to,' Terre said with a big smile.

The free mental health clinics are in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Cameron parishes, as well as Lafitte and New Orleans East.

Later this year clinics will open in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. There are also support groups for patients.

To use the clinics, patients must be referred by a primary care physician.


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