In the wake of Hurricane Maria – a true climate catastrophe – thousands upon thousands of residents of Puerto Rico are experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Today, many are still without power, have lost loved ones, are homeless and harboring feelings of isolation. The rate of mental illness on the island has also surged. A suicide prevention hotline near San Juan reported that the number of calls they’ve received has doubled from 2,046 in August 2017 to 4,548 in January 2018 (Puerto Rico Mental Health Crisis on the Rise Six Months After Hurricane Maria, Weather, March 26, 2018).
The local government’s Commission for the Prevention Suicide released a report detailing that in 2017, 253 Puerto Ricans completed suicide. Three months after Hurricane Maria, 20 suicides occurred in December alone. Of the deceased, 86 percent were men and 14 percent were women.
Previously, Puerto Rico experienced a decade-long recession, when many were unemployed and forced to move away, breaking families apart. Hurricane Maria added to the devastation and distress of the residents.
Governor Ricardo Rosello of Puerto Rico promised that the lights would come back by mid-December. As of today, more than 87,000 homes and business remain without power.
“I sit and cry all day. I was depressed before the storm. Maria only made it worse,” said Magdaliz Medina, expressing agony over not having power or water in the six months since the hurricane hit.
Mental health issues are more than likely to be triggered due to the power outages and rain. “When it starts raining, they have episodes of anxiety because they think their house is going to flood again,” said Carlos del Toro Ortiz, a clinical psychologist. “They have heart palpitations, sweating, catastrophic thoughts. They think ‘I’m going to drown,’ ‘I’m going to die,’ ‘I’m going to lose everything.’”
Without electricity, many citizens are not able to receive proper care for health-related issues like chemotherapy, dialysis, breathing treatments, etc. Many are dying. Victor Manuel Belen Santiago watched his mother suffer and eventually pass away because she was unable to use her oxygen machine.
Adding to resident’s anxiety, Puerto Rico’s hurricane season officially begins again on June 1.
Exposure to a devastating life event like Hurricane Maria can affect those it touches for the rest of time – especially if proper care and treatment are inaccessible. That’s why knowing how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis is so vital. Knowing how to support someone in need can mean the difference between life and death.
Mental Health First Aid teaches the skills to recognize and support someone who may be experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. #BeTheDifference in the life of a friend or family member today. Find a Mental Health First Aid Course near you.