By Jori Hamilton
The Flint water crisis officially started in 2014. That year, the city switched over its water supply to the Flint River. The goal was to save money. Unfortunately, the result was one of the biggest water supply disasters our country has ever seen. The water supply was tainted with lead, poisoning the residents of the city. While Flint was just a relatively unknown city in Michigan before, it’s now had a national spotlight on it for seven years thanks to this crisis. There have been over 40 criminal charges in this case thanks to multiple deaths and diseases caused by the water. But, the physical effects are only half the problem this crisis has created. The mental health of Flint citizens may never be the same. So, how are the people of Flint still being affected, and what should the local government be doing to help?
The Effects of Long-Term Trauma
One of the biggest problems with the Flint crisis was that the government didn’t appear to be listening to the cries of the people. Citizens protested. They believed their governor was turning a blind eye or trying to line his pockets. The crisis clearly showed Flint and the rest of the country a picture of a city in turmoil. It showcased Flint as an impoverished area of Michigan and highlighted how these underserved areas can create lasting issues for the people who live there. For example, water is a basic need. When a community feels like their needs aren’t being met, they recognize that they aren’t being valued as human beings. It also makes it clear that income disparity remains a problem in our country. While the rich keep getting richer, communities in poverty just continue to get poorer. In addition to feeling undervalued and ignored, Flint citizens have had to struggle with physical ailments because of this crisis. Poor water quality can contribute to:
- E. coli
- Hepatitis A
When you get sick, it’s easy to feel stressed, depressed, and anxious. It can be even worse if you don’t have the means to cover your medical expenses. Watching someone you love get sick or die because of a water problem can make the stages of grief feel ten times worse, contributing to lasting mental health problems and even lingering symptoms of trauma.
What Should Be Done?
The bottom line with any crisis like this is that you can’t take back the damage that has already been done. Things like reparations are certainly in order to the families and victims that have been impacted. But, reparations and even lawsuits typically only cover the costs of physical ailments or expenses incurred by the victims. They don’t consider long-term mental health issues.
Because the Flint government can’t go back in time, its focus should be on the changes that need to be made as the city moves forward. Already, some positive changes have been made on a national level. Because of this crisis, Congress provided funds to the CDC to put together a federal advisory committee. The purpose of the committee is to enhance prevention program activities for lead poisoning in children.
On a more local level, major changes are still needed to re-establish the trust of Flint citizens and to ensure that clean water is and will always be a priority. That starts with switching the water supply back to Detroit, and physically replacing any lead pipes with plastic ones to prevent any future issues. It’s one small step toward making Flint residents feel like they have value. Flint has been an underserved area for far too long. For many, this was the “last straw” in feeling like their voices mattered.
Unfortunately, the city itself will be dealing with the mental health effects of that mindset for generations.