“Think about PTSD like the water level in a river,” said University of Mississippi Medical Center researcher Dr. Scott Coffey, who was part of a two-year study published in 2008 on Katrina-related PTSD in lower Mississippi. “If the river is running high and there is a rainstorm,” he said, “the river may flood because there is very little room for error. That’s kind of how it is with PTSD. Your stress is high, then when a little rain comes along, it goes over its bank. With PTSD the river is constantly running high.”’
People who struggled with depression before Katrina were less able to weather the psychological effects of the storm. Suicide rates tripled in areas along the coast, and that is only an estimate. Many suicides go unreported as such.
Was Malcolm a victim of Katrina? Not in a direct sense, maybe, but I am sure Katrina was one of the currents in his “river” of stress and anxiety. After the storm he worked for contractors gutting houses; he walked in the debris of people’s lives every day. In January, 2006, when the University of New Orleans opened up again, he drove to his on-campus job, and to class, through the devastation of Lakeview. Day after day he saw evidence of the precariousness of life and the elusiveness of safety in a community at the mercy of the weather. As he came to the end of his course-work for his M.Ed, he had to face the fact that he was moving into adulthood and independence. However much we tried to assure him of our constant support, however much we slowly walked him through the minutiae of adult financial responsibilities, however often we tried to convince him he was already a really good tutor and youth mentor and would make a great teacher, I think he was slowly drowning in his fears and insecurities.
So, perhaps Malcolm was a storm victim, and Katrina was a part of that storm.
His last moments alive were at the lakefront, a place where, before Katrina, he had always found comfort and calm, and that is where he chose to end his life. I only hope that in his last breaths he found that elusive calm he had so desperately sought for so long.
I love you, Malc.