The University of Mississippi’s Clinical-Disaster Research Center (UM-CDRC) was officially recognized in the Fall of 2012 by the Institutions of Higher Learning for the state of Mississippi. However, the Center actually started two years earlier, when Dr. Stefan Schulenberg began consulting with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MS DMH) with the goal of evaluating the mental health services provided to coastal residents of Mississippi affected by the Gulf Oil Spill. In April of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform exploded, causing the death of 11 workers, injuring others, and releasing almost five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill harmed the ecology and economy of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and affected the mental health and physical well-being of coastal residents. The impact of the spill will be felt for years to come.
After the Gulf Oil Spill, resources were allocated to provide mental health services to the people directly affected. BP provided funds to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health in order to provide therapeutic, training, and outreach services to coastal residents. Dr. Schulenberg, who was in charge of establishing the procedures to carry out the program evaluation process and assess the services being provided, organized a group of professionals and graduate students to implement the service evaluation and conduct research on the mental health effects of the disaster. The project included collaborating with 19 mental health agencies along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to assess psychological variables, services provided, and treatment outcomes over a two-year period.
The BP grant offered valuable lessons for our team, in terms of research, training, and community service. Members of the UM-CDRC appreciated working with diverse members of the community, as well as assessing the impact of the disaster on everyday life. Furthermore, the data collected have contributed to the understanding of the role of resilience, meaning in life, and other positive factors as relates to traumatic events. Although the Gulf Oil Spill research project officially ended during the summer of 2012, the Center continues to analyze and disseminate data on symptoms people experienced after the disaster, as well as their relationship to protective factors. In doing so, the Center intends to enhance psychological outcomes for people experiencing disaster-related stress, in both the long and short term.