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I can’t believe it’s already my second week in New Orleans! During the past 10 days or so I have done a decent amount of exploring around the city, gotten to know the other students in my group, and tried some really amazing foods. I will be splitting up my time between two placements during my summer here. The first is at the Department of Psychiatry at Tulane Medical Center, where I will be updating a directory of child and adolescent mental health providers in the Greater New Orleans Area, making animated videos for stakeholders about the Louisiana Child Welfare Trauma Project, and assisting in a research study exploring parents’ reasons for not enrolling their children in psychiatric treatment.

Even after just a short amount of time here, one issue that has stuck out to me in particular is the extent to which Hurricane Katrina has incorporated itself into the sociocultural fabric of New Orleans. The costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast almost 12 years ago, but its consequences can still be seen here each day. These range from the slightly annoying and ever-present ongoing construction projects to the perhaps less obvious racial and neighborhood-based wealth disparities that have existed here for years, but were further exacerbated by the storm.

So how does this all tie in to what I’ll be working on this summer? Hurricane Katrina created a massive need for mental health services, including those for children and teens. The homelessness, destruction, and overall disruption of daily life caused by Katrina were extremely traumatic to say the least, leading to increased levels of PTSD and other psychological issues. In a state that already has some of the nation’s worst health outcomes and highest levels of poverty (the child poverty rate in Louisiana is over 33% – the highest in the country), access to mental health care is an extremely important, yet overlooked, public health dilemma.

As my understanding of life in New Orleans grows over these next several weeks, I hope to learn more about how the history of the city and its sociocultural environment has affect the health outcomes of its residents.