Anderson Cooper on Suicide Post-Katrina
Well, Katrina claimed more than 1,000 lives. And with new reports that
more than 3,200 people are still missing, the final death toll could be
much higher. But tonight, I want to tell you about the other victims of
the storm. They survived the hurricane but they could not survive the
misery that followed. CNN's Drew Griffin has more on the disturbing
suicides out of New Orleans.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This story of Dr. James
Kent Treadway is closely woven to the state of his city. These pictures
of debris, disaster and despair are New Orleans closing in on five
months after Katrina. In many areas, it looks like the storm hit
TYRA TREADWAY, WIDOW: Depression is...
GRIFFIN: Tyra Treadway is a Katrina survivor.
TREADWAY: ... you think you're having a good day when you see a street
that's cleaned, and you drive three blocks down and you see people out
there trying to clean and sweep the sidewalk next to two stories of
debris on the street, because they just want one little section to say,
"It's mine. It's clean. And it doesn't have sheetrock dust on it."
GRIFFIN: It was in this environment of dust and debris that Tyra
Treadway came home last November 16th and found her husband dead. For
most of their 33-year marriage, he was one of the city's most prominent
pediatricians, a man whose roots went back five generations and whose
father started the practice he took over.
Now, he had hanged himself.
His wife, says the doctor, had been suffering debilitating back pain for
three years, but it was the pain that came from Katrina that Dr. Kent,
as he was called, could no longer take.
TREADWAY: And actually, the only time that he was -- would really not
focus on the pain and stuff is when he was with these patients.
GRIFFIN: His house was damaged but survived, his office flooded but also
survived. What did not survive was his practice. Parents fled New
Orleans, taking their children, his patients, with them.
Dr. Treadway was advised to retire, to start accepting disability
payments, and to begin taking stronger pain medication. Instead, he took
TREADWAY: But when you don't give anybody hope of leading somewhat of a
life with dignity, you can't expect people to just exist.
DR. FRANK MINYARD, ORLEANS PARISH CORONER: In the past, we have not had
this many professional people at one time commit suicide.
GRIFFIN: Since November 10th, the day New Orleans Parish coroner Frank
Minyard began counting the dead as non-Katrina related, two lawyers and
three doctors have killed themselves.
MINYARD: I don't know the mental status of these people prior to them
doing the act, but I know a little bit about what happened to them. And
it's obviously Katrina-related. People have lost their jobs. People have
lost their homes. People have lost their loved ones.
GRIFFIN: Minyard says he helped talked a friend, a business owner, out
of suicide. Many people, he says, are finding post-Katrina New Orleans
just too much to handle.
MINYARD: I'm acutely aware of that, that the storm really precipitated
these feelings. I mean, I've had them myself, just the fact that my
office has been destroyed and, you know, my daughter's home has been
destroyed. So I've had feelings of like that myself.
GRIFFIN: The coroner says that, for professionals who thrive on
controlling situations, the storm was devastating. He fears the suicides
are not over, but no one wants to deal with the problem. Politicians
keep saying things are getting better.
(on-screen): But despite the billions of dollars pledged to bring this
city back and the millions of dollars being sent to clean it up, people
in New Orleans say, "Look around. The garbage is still everywhere," a
visual sign that things are not improving. And that, they say, is the
biggest problem. New Orleans is a city without hope.
CECILLE TEBO, GRIEF COUNSELOR: The psychological implications, the
grief, and the loss, and the emotional rollercoaster for some is simply
beyond their ability to cope. Kids that aren't doing well, their parents
aren't doing well.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Cecille Tebo is a grief counselor for the New
Orleans Police. The department lost two officers to suicide since the
storm. She says she has been deeply depressed herself and every day is
conscious of living in a destroyed city.
TEBO: Oh, god, our Steinway. My husband is a beautiful, beautiful
pianist. This is our -- this is the tragedy here.
GRIFFIN: Her home was flooded. She's just learned her neighborhood could
be bulldozed into a city park. The garbage isn't picked up. When she
tries to get help repairing her house, FEMA and insurance companies, she
says, put her on hold for hours, and insurance adjusters and contractors
repeatedly don't show up for appointments. This is her new New Orleans.
TEBO: To me, it's abusive. It's like being in a really bad abusive
relationship. Whereas as a counselor, I encourage people to get out of
those relationships. So it's like, you know, the thought would be, "Get
out. Don't do it."
GRIFFIN (on-screen): But you can't get out of your insurance. You can't
get out of your building permits. You can't get out of -- for most
people -- New Orleans.
TEBO: Right, so people kill themselves. That's how they get out. They
just kill themselves.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tyra Treadway says she saw that frustration and
depression building in her husband, and they did seek help. Two
psychiatrists, she says, told them he would be all right. Now she
wonders whether anyone in New Orleans will ever be all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too depressing.
GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, New Orleans.
COOPER: It really is hard to imagine what it is like here unless you
have been here. And people who are here want people to come, they want
people to visit, they want people to volunteer, because God knows they
need the help down here.