By Jay Reeves, Associated Press Writer
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (AP) — Before the BP oil spill, the Gulf Coast was a place of abundant shrimping, tourist-filled beaches and a happy if humble lifestyle. Now, it's home to depression, worry and sadness for many.
A Gallup survey released Tuesday of almost 2,600 coastal residents showed that depression cases are up more than 25% since an explosion killed 11 people and unleashed a three-month gusher of crude into the Gulf in April that ruined many livelihoods. The conclusions were consistent with trends seen in smaller studies and witnessed by mental health workers.
People just aren't as happy as they used to be despite palm trees and warm weather. A "well-being index" included in the Gallup study said many coastal residents are stressed out, worried and sad more often than people living inland, an indication that the spill's emotional toll lingers even if most of the oil has vanished from view.
Margaret Carruth is among those fighting to hang on.
Her hairstyling business dried up after tourists stopped coming to the beach and locals cut back on nonessentials like haircuts. All but broke and unable to afford rent, Carruth packed her belongings into her truck and a storage shed and now depends on friends for shelter.
"I'm a strong person and always have been, but I'm almost to the breaking point," says Carruth.
The Gallup survey was conducted in 25 Gulf-front counties from Texas east to Florida over eight months before and after the spill, ending Aug. 6. People reported 25.6% more depression diagnoses after then spill than before it, although the study didn't conclude the additional cases were tied directly to the oil.
The survey said people along the Gulf reported feeling sad, worried and stressed after the spill, while people living inland reported less over the same period. More than 40% of people in coastal areas reported feeling stress after the BP geyser blew, a 15% increase from before.