Helping Hands, Healing Minds

Looking After New Orleans' Mental Health


By Wendy Soderburg '82 and Stuart Wolpert

Published Jul 31, 2006 11:39 AM

UCLA Psychology Professor Vickie Mays wants to tell the children of New Orleans — many of whom have not attended school since Hurricane Katrina struck the area in August 2005 — that they're special.

When these youngsters resume their studies in the fall, "they'll just be coming back for the first time," Mays says. "They're not even going back to their same schools. Remember, not everybody lives in the same place. So this is a bit trying, to some extent. It'll be different."

To ease the transition, Mays is spearheading an effort to create "You're So Special" packages for the kids — comprised of books, toothbrushes and other donated items — to be distributed at a workshop for parents and teachers. The workshop is one of many that will take place on August 8 and 9 in New Orleans, just before the American Psychological Association's (APA) annual convention in that city on August 10–13.

It's all part of a national effort, led by Mays, to provide mental-health education and training to New Orleans' parents, families, clergy members and mental-health providers. Mays is asking some of the 6,000 psychologists attending the APA meeting to arrive early to teach a series of educational and training sessions.

"There has rightfully been a lot of attention on ensuring that the people of New Orleans have safety, shelter, food and medicine, but in addition to issues of survival, many people in New Orleans in response to Katrina have very serious mental disorders as well as severe emotional distress," says Mays, director of the UCLA EXPORT Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities. "If we don't intervene with the mental-health needs of children now, we could see a generation in New Orleans that will experience depression, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and other chronic problems. We don't want to let the downward cycle start."