Flint, MI—Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remain highly prevalent in the Flint community long after the beginning of the water crisis, research shows.

A recently published study collected data from August 2019 through April 2020 and surveyed nearly 2,000 adults living in Flint during the water crisis. Its results show that more than one in five of those surveyed had depression, nearly one in four experienced PTSD, and over one-tenth of respondents met criteria for both disorders.

Aaron Reuben, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral scholar in neuropsychology at Duke University and the Medical University of South Carolina, said the findings underscore the need for additional mental health services for the Flint community. 

“The extremely high rates of depression and PTSD estimated for the wider Flint community reflect a combination of factors, both related to and unrelated to the water crisis,” Reuben wrote in an email. “Regardless of the ultimate cause, these disorders are unlikely to remit on their own for many people, and we have good treatments that work for both.”  

Based on the responses of those surveyed, the research team estimated that the prevalence of depression among the broader adult population of Flint residents is more than two times greater than the rate in Michigan overall. Further, the researchers found that the prevalence of PTSD in Flint adults is two times greater than the rate among veterans after deployment.

Nicole Jones is the director of the Flint Registry, which connects people impacted by the Flint water crisis to services and resources on lead elimination, nutrition, child development and health. She said the study, along with the registry’s work, highlights the Flint water crisis’ lasting impact on people’s wellbeing and that long-term follow-ups are critical to ensuring people receive necessary services. 

“Another important thing to emphasize for folks is the importance of reducing the stigma related to mental healthcare and how important it is that people know where to go for resources,” Jones said.

Since its inception, the registry has enrolled nearly 21,000 participants, providing more than 30,000 referrals. Referrals for mental health services rank as one of the top referrals provided by the registry for adults, Jones said. 

Danis Russell, the CEO of Genesee Health System (GHS), said the study’s results came as no surprise, and noted that GHS has experienced an increase in demand for mental health services annually since the beginning of the water crisis in 2014. 

“It matches what we’ve seen,” Russell said. “We just want the community to know that we are working with them and we will do everything we can to make sure we address all those needs.”

Russell pointed to GHS’s Community Mental Health Millage, which was approved by voters in 2021, as one example of its efforts to meet the community’s needs.

Since then, the county’s public mental health provider has begun developing additional programs, such as partnerships with local churches as well as the expansion of training and services to law enforcement, according to GHS.

The millage also allows GHS to expand services and hours of operation at Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC), which offers both virtual and on-site mental health services including counseling, peer support, crisis assessment and stabilization, and coordination of follow-up care.

While most of the study’s respondents reported that they had never been offered mental health services for issues related to the water crisis, Reuben did note an encouraging finding from his team’s research.

“Overwhelmingly, when folks were offered mental health services, they utilized them and many benefited,” Reuben said. 

For crisis support, GHS’s 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached at 810-257-3740, or text Flint at 741741. The national 988 lifeline is an alternative as well.

General inquires to GHS can be directed to 810-257-3705, or click here to learn more about its services. 

The Flint Registry can be reached at 833-463-5468 or FlintRegistry@hc.msu.edu. Click here to learn more about the registry. 

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...