JOPLIN, Mo. — Depression caused by the devastating May 22 tornado has been linked by medical experts to three suicides and a significant increase in mental health issues in this Missouri city.
Officials at the Freeman Hospital's mental health center said calls to its crisis hot line have quadrupled since the storm, many involving post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
They said three suicides have been tied directly to the tornado and that 40 other people treated for depression have acknowledged suicidal thoughts.
Judy Lauck, a behavioral health nurse, said seven weeks after the tornado that killed 158 the shock has worn off but agitation, anxiety and stress are affecting the survivors.
"They don't have a home," Lauck said. "They don't have a job. They have lost their place of business. They're dealing with a lot of uncertainty."
Patricia McGregor, a private practice psychologist, said even those residents who lived in that part of Joplin not struck by the tornado are experiencing problems.
"I am seeing people who consider themselves not impacted by it, but they are having post-trauma experiences and they feel guilty about it," said McGregor.
"They did not lose their house, but their neighbor did. They did not lose their job, but someone they know did. That's survivor guilt."
McGregor said people who had mental health issues before the tornado are finding them magnified by the post-storm depression -- issues such as domestic violence, marital strife and family dysfunction.
"We should expect to see an increase in those kinds of things," she said. "We've moving out of the shock and denial phase into the, 'Oh, my God. This is going to last forever' phase."
Freeman Hospital's mental health center is reaching out to residents in need under a crisis intervention program titled, "Healing for Joplin." The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.