People are freaking out about BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Author Marc Siegal wrote a piece on Slate highlighting the psychological impact that the spill is having on the people living and making a living along the shores of the Gulf.

The oil leak has had a profound economic impact on the economy as a whole but has been especially painful to professionals like fishermen, oil workers, restaurant workers, hotel owners and storekeepers. They have seen their monthly income slashed dramatically by fishing bans, scared tourists and drilling moratoriums. Losing your income takes a mental toll whenever it happens β€” no matter the circumstances. Add the stress caused by the sight and smell of the invading oil plumes, and you get an entire region of people in need of extra mental services.

In the case of New Orleans, you have the stresses brought on by Hurricane Katrina on top of a mental health system that was inadequate before the storm. Kathleen Crapanzano, medical director for the Office of Mental Health for Louisiana, told Siegal "We lost the whole mental-health infrastructure in the storm. It was inadequate before. Then we lost the clinics, the hospitals, the staff, and the administration."

A study published in a 2007 edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found a quantifiable psychological impact on communities in six coastal towns affected by oil spills in Wales. The mental health effects lasted longer than the physical problems.

It's common sense to me β€” imagine if your town was invaded by massive giant plumes of toxic oil β€” oil that shut down your job, killed everything it touched, and stank. Badly.

If that happened to me, I'd lose sleep, worry the day away, argue with my hypothetical wife, and generally stress out on everyone around me. Then factor in that my friends, family and neighbors are likely going through the same thing. It's not a great situation.

Under government pressure, BP is setting up a $20 billion fund to help cover the lost income. The funds will be controlled and distributed by the government, and claims are supposed to be decided upon within 90 days of being filed. Click over to the Whitehouse blog for more details.

While I believe the U.S. government ultimately shares just as much blame for BP's oil leak as BP itself, I was heartened to watch Vice President Joe Biden's response to the stupid comments Republican Rep. Joe Barton made, saying that we owed BP an apology for the fund, which he called a "$20 billion shakedown".

And the oil gushes on.