Puerto Rico’s Mental Health

    Overcoming Consequences of Catastrophes

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    Puerto Ricans know the bitter taste of affliction. The island’s decade-long recession took its toll on thousands of people who lost their jobs and, incapable of paying off their mortgage, were driven from their homes. The high unemployment rate, economic stagnation, and an increase in the violent crime rates – all this couldn’t but affect Puerto Ricans’ mental health. To further complicate the matters, in fall 2017, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island and robbed millions of access to necessities. As a result, Puerto Rico’s suicide hotline witnessed almost a 230% increase in calls from people who claimed they had attempted suicide or had such thoughts. Streams of shocked people flooded the streets in search of food and water, which was extremely scarce. Those who fled the country after the natural disaster needed to adapt to new living and housing conditions, which also put a strain on refugees and caused great distress. No wonder, mental health remains one of the most urgent problems in Puerto Rico.

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    Addressing Psychological Disorders and Preventing Suicidal Behavior

    As we look back, we realize that the adversities and misfortunes that had befallen the island made an indelible impression on every citizen. The repercussions of those tragic events are way too strong to get over them quickly. Almost 60% of the island’s population still experience anxiety, fears, and frustration. Both adults and children note that they cannot feel completely safe in their homes. The electricity still goes out now and then and drinkable water remains a problem. The hurricane not only flattened thousands of houses but also devastated people mentally and spiritually. According to the Save the Children Fund, several months after Hurricane Maria, people were emotionally devastated and distressed about not having their normal lives back, so much, so they were almost ready to kill themselves in front of their children. At least 19 students who had difficulty adjusting to living in the “post-apocalyptic” world confessed that they were seriously contemplating suicide.

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    The worst thing is that lots of people continue to live in constant fear and find themselves uncertain of the future. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, mental healthcare still remains a serious issue in Puerto Rico. Those who witnessed the enormous scope of devastation inflicted by the hurricane are more prone to mood swings, panic attacks, and anxiety. To successfully address these issues, it’s important to realize that mental problems are not something shameful and socially reprehensible. Actually, psychological disorders are more common than most people might think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year, about 30% of American adults have mental disorders.

    Given the difficult life situations Puerto Ricans have faced and continue facing, it comes as no surprise that a great many people tend to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, and severe depressions. So, if the consequences of the disaster are still weighing on you or your close ones, don’t hesitate to avail yourself of professional help.

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    If you or someone you know starts contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-888-628-9454 to reach a trained counselor who will help you not to give in to suicidal ideation and provide you with further directions to follow. To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, dial 1-800-273-8255 and wait for our special to help you.

    Be sure to schedule an appointment with a psychologist or any other mental health professional. Remember, getting timely treatment can help prevent mental disorders from getting worse and help you live a more productive and fulfilling life.

    The Role of Social Support in Combating Stress

    Oxiris Barbot, a deputy commissioner, involved in mitigating Maria’s impacts, noted that “even though [Puerto Ricans] had gone through…tremendous devastation, they still had a sense of community and connectedness and commitment to their jobs.” Such strong social support contributed to the considerable reduction of emotional tension amongst survivals. Psychologists emphasize that social support system is indispensable when it comes to dealing with such epic stressors as global economic crises or natural disasters.

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    The social support system is the network of friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, and others who can offer help to a person in need. That help can take the form of advice, physical, emotional, or monetary support. Researches indicate that having a good social support system is crucial for coping with stressors. Having people to talk to about one’s problems reduces the physical symptoms of stress. Talking with the individuals who have had similar experiences can help put the event into perspective. The negative emotions of loneliness, isolation, and depression, which are less likely to be experienced by people with large amounts of social support, can adversely affect one’s ability to cope. Positive emotions, to the contrary, help individuals recover from traumatic experiences more quickly and effectively. So, now more than ever, the nation needs to come together and lend a helping hand to those in need.

    Undoubtedly, it will take much time and effort for people to get over the effects of the catastrophe that struck Puerto Rico. Over time, things are just bound to get back to normal. However, until then, Puerto Ricans need to take a grip on themselves and master all emotional fortitude and courage to help those struggling with the consequences of the past tragedies.

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