In what appears to be its first nod to the mental health challenges from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP announced today it will provide $52 million in funding for one federal and four state agencies to provide support and outreach services for mental health programs in the Gulf.

“We appreciate that there is a great deal of stress and anxiety across the region and as part of our determination to make things right for the people of the region, we are providing this assistance now to help make sure individuals who need help know where to turn,” said Lamar McKay, president of BP America, in a statement today.

The funding is being given as follows:

AMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - $10 million

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals - $15 million

Mississippi Department of Mental Health - $12 million

Alabama Department of Mental Health - $12 million

Florida Department of Children and Families - $3 million

BP’s announcement comes after researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health published an early studyof the toll that the spill has had on mental health in the Gulf region [PDF].

According to that study, more than a third of parents living within 10 miles of the Gulf coastline reported that their children had experienced signs of physical or mental illness since the spill. Here’s what one researcher, Dr. Irwin Redlener, told NPRabout that finding:

The medical side included very severe rashes, or coughing or wheezing that was otherwise unexplained - and then a host of psychological consequences, which including depression, difficulty sleeping, and a variety of other problems that these children were expressing.

The study also noted that the oil spill had the most effect on coastal households earning less than $25,000 a year. Those residents were “more likely to think they would have to move … and more likely to report physical and mental health effects among their children.”

As we’ve noted, in the aftermath of the Gulf oil disaster, mental health advocates and state agencies repeatedly called on BP to fund mental health claims or mental health care, but those calls went ignoredfor months.

Kenneth Feinberg, the independent administrator of BP’s claims process (who was appointed by the Obama administration but is, by the way, on BP’s payroll), had earlier testified that mental health claims would probably not be coveredby the $20 billion set aside to pay out damage claims.