NEW ORLEANS -- For three months after Hurricane Katrina's waters consumed her home, Michelle Thomas locked her stress deep inside and put on a brave face for her husband and two daughters.
As Christmas approaches, the 36-year-old woman is feeling anything but joyful. Like many survivors, Thomas is depressed.
''I go into a feeling of hopelessness, and I cry," she says.
The holiday season may make dealing with Katrina's fallout even tougher, mental health specialists say, especially when there are few doctors, counselors, or hospitals to help people.
About half a million people -- survivors as well as the emergency workers who went to their aid -- may need mental health services, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated.
''We don't have our medical system here. It's gone. That's a big problem," said Dr. Frank Minyard, New Orleans coroner. ''I think it's going to end tragically for some of our citizens, not only here, but who are spread out all over the country."