“Healing emotional pain is not as straightforward as rebuilding physical structures, or restoring cell service,” said Chirlane McCray, New York City’s first lady, as she announced the city’s initiative to help address Puerto Rico’s mental health crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (“New York City to deploy mental health experts to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico,” ABC7NY, March 13, 2018).
Fueled by trauma from the Category 4 storm and its aftermath, as well as persisting infrastructure needs, mental health has become a critical concern for the island. Many Puerto Ricans experienced new symptoms of intense anxiety and depression following the storm, and the condition of those with existing mental illnesses has only worsened. In January, it was reported that the number of crisis hotline calls increased by 246 percent from the same time last year. Similarly, the number of callers who expressed suicidal ideation increased by 83 percent.
McCray seeks to address the mental health of an especially vulnerable population: students. For two weeks, she will be in Puerto Rico with a task force of twelve mental and behavioral health professionals. They intend to train 3,000 teachers and as many as 1,000 social workers to identify and treat the unique mental health needs of students.
The primary goal of these trainings will be to prevent the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The task force will focus on techniques, including stress management, self-care and early intervention, that have been proven to help reduce the risk of PTSD. By training teachers and social workers, these valuable skills can be shared with others to reinforce Puerto Rico’s mental health infrastructure.
McCray’s efforts highlight the importance of basic training to help identify, treat and prevent mental health issues. Follow her lead and prepare yourself with the tools to help others – enroll in a Mental Health First Aid course today and make a difference in your community.