Center for Public Integrity-Columbia Journalism Investigations Release Report on Mental Health Toll Due to Natural Disasters | Columbia Journalism School

Center for Public Integrity-Columbia Journalism Investigations Release Report on Mental Health Toll Due to Natural Disasters

Today, the Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations released a joint report looking at the unprecedented mental health toll caused by climate-change fueled disasters that have resulted in nearly 40 events costing a billion dollars each in the past decade.

With just one federal program that helps a fraction of survivors, America is woefully unprepared, especially as tropical storm Marco and Hurricane Laura hit Gulf states this week and California wildfires worsen, all during a pandemic that has made people afraid to gather in shelters.


  • The country’s primary aid for mental health after disasters, the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, run by FEMA, distributes an average of $24 million, or 1 percent of FEMA’s annual total relief fund, to send mental-health workers into disaster-stricken communities. This help usually lasts about a year and reaches only a fraction of survivors.
  • In a survey of 230 disaster victims, over 60 percent of survivors reported five or more types of emotional challenges, ranging from anxiety to depression, in the first year after the disaster.
  • 70 percent of respondents said they received no mental health services after their experience.
  • Three-quarters of survey respondents say the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding their previous disaster experience
  • Texas relies on CCP mental help support more than any other state. In the nine Houston ZIP codes with the highest per-capita share of FEMA applicants — all lower-income, majority Black and Hispanic areas — only 1 percent of the population received counseling.
  • In Herndon’s ZIP code, which ranked second on that FEMA-application list, some 4,700 people asked for mental health assistance. Just 105 met with counselors.
  • When Texas reached the end of its Harvey counseling program, 40 percent of the grant was unspent. Positions were never filled and some staff, including counselors, left before their contract was up. The money, $5.6 million, went back to FEMA.
  • There are 178 U.S. counties or municipalities predisposed to disaster-driven mental illness. All have vulnerable populations that were hit by multiple, property-damaging hurricanes, floods or wildfires in the last 10 years. At least a quarter of those places have poor access to psychological care.


Full Details: Hidden Epidemics: Disasters are Driving a Mental Health Crisis


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About Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the Columbia Journalism School has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened in 1912 and offers Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science in Data Journalism, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Awards.