A recent study by UVA pulmonologist Drew Harris has found “astronomically high” rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD among patients at the southwest Virginia miner’s lung disease clinic where Harris serves as medical director. The clinic serves mostly retired and disabled former miners from central Appalachia, where there are growing instances of progressive and debilitating lung disease from exposure to coal and rock dust in the mines. As part of a holistic approach to care, the clinic screens every patient for mental health issues, and these screenings have revealed rates of mental health problems that are “orders of magnitude higher than what we would expect to see,” including PTSD from witnessing or experiencing traumatic accidents in the mines, he says. Pointing out that mental health is an important contributor to quality of life, Harris says, “We need to think about creative ways to bring more mental health resources to coal miners and to Appalachia in general.”
As stunning as the outcome seemed, it was 50 years in coming.