Mental health was a recurring theme in our series on hurricane recovery during the pandemic. Download the guide here.

After Hurricanes Laura and Delta hit Lake Charles last year, it took months for the Kay Doré Counseling Clinic at McNeese State University to return to campus, where it offers low-cost counseling out of a trailer near the school’s football stadium. The storms hit McNeese hard, and February’s deep freeze, followed by May’s flash flooding, have slowed rebuilding even more. When I pulled up to the clinic’s makeshift office last week, I saw boarded up windows and blue tarped-roofs, but also summer school students and sports teams continuing on with everyday life.

I went to Kay Doré to deliver copies of a mental health resource guide that Southerly created in collaboration with the clinic. The guide brings together pieces of my reporting on hurricane recovery in southwest Louisiana over the past year as well as information on affordable counseling services. Kevin Yaudes, the clinic’s faculty advisor, greeted me, eager to get these guides into peoples’ hands. Not enough people know that Kay Doré offers $20 flat-rate sessions for all residents of southwest Louisiana, he said.

We’ve been working on this guide since early spring. Throughout my time reporting in the region, countless people had told me about the mental health toll of living through these compounding disasters. Losing loved ones to long battles with COVID-19. Bunking up with a dozen relatives, with little personal space. Struggling to find secure housing, or a steady job. Lacking water and power. Getting stranded in their cars. Being displaced, away from home. Feeling isolated navigating a crisis during a pandemic that has forced us to stay apart.

Yet information on the availability of affordable mental healthcare has been sparse, particularly because clinics have been recovering from the hurricanes, too: Some have hustled to relocate or consolidate offices because of storm damage and have been slow to re-open to the public. 

We set out to create a printed resource guide that would provide up-to-date information to folks in the region and would highlight stories and data that I’ve included in my coverage. Inside, you’ll find testimonials from Kevin and me on the mental health trends we’ve witnessed in southwest Louisiana since the hurricanes; quotes from Lisa Morgan and Sasha Miller, two women I featured in my reporting who spoke to the hurricanes’ impact on their mental health; important numbers on recovery in southwest Louisiana; and information on accessing low-barrier, low-cost counseling in the region. 

The Kay Doré Counseling Clinic at McNeese State University. (Photo by Carly Berlin)

I spent Thursday and Friday last week distributing the guides in Lake Charles. I brought them to many of my sources to share with their communities, as well as to a legal aid clinic helping storm survivors, other mental healthcare providers whose services we highlighted, and to the organizers of the Vessel Project, a mutual aid effort in the region. The group will be giving away our guides at meal distributions this summer; I helped chop onions as they prepped red beans and rice and cabbage and cornbread for a giveaway last weekend.

Creating these guides was truly a team effort. The gorgeous photos are by New Orleans photographer Katie Sikora. Paper Machine, a print shop in the Lower 9th Ward, did a beautiful job printing the guides for us, and the Pulitzer Center provided the funds that allowed us to make this all happen. Lyndsey Gilpin, Southerly’s editor-in-chief, helped design and edit the guides. Input from the staff at Kay Doré and Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority made this project possible, as did conversations with the courageous and vulnerable people of southwest Louisiana who have spoken to me over the past year. Thank you for trusting me with your stories.

Carly Berlin is Southerly’s Gulf Coast correspondent.

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