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Mental Health in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico back in September 2017. Over three months later, approximately 1.5 million people are still without power. This situation creates obvious health risks, as well as safety and security risks. What some people don’t realize is that the blackouts can also take a toll on people’s mental health.

In a study conducted about the impact of Hurricane Sandy in New York, Dr. Shao Lin, a professor at the University of Albany concluded that, “There was a significant increase in emergency room visits for substance abuse problems, psychosis, mood disorders and suicides throughout the city.” The study revealed that the longer the power outage continued, the greater the increase in emergency room visits.

During power outages, mental health struggles can increase due to the stress of not having necessities like food or transportation or even life support devices. Without power, there is no communication and people become socially isolated. The general chaos of living in the dark can lead to fear and anxiety in people as well.

Puerto Rico’s Health Department collected data on suicide rates, cases of depression, and anxiety. In September and October of 2017 after the hurricane, the suicide rates had increased by roughly 30% compared to the same months in 2016. The stories of mental trauma and PTSD were very common. Many people had panic attacks anytime it rained.

The startling statistics and stories from the island show that there is an obvious need in Puerto Rico to raise awareness of mental health during a catastrophe. It is important to remember that it is not only the traumatic event that causes damage, but how much support the people receive after the crisis. The people of Puerto Rico greatly require mental health services and support to help them during the many months following the hurricane.