Despair and anxiety: Puerto Rico's 'living emergency' as a mental health crisis unfolds
By Amanda Holpuch
Pharmacy closures deprived people of access to prescription antidepressants and antipsychotics. Veterans of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea reported that the sounds of the storm and scenes of destruction triggered PTSD symptoms that had been managed.
From November 2017 through January 2018, the island’s suicide hotline, Línea PAS, saw a 246% increase in calls from people who said they had attempted suicide compared with the same time a year earlier. There was also an 83% jump in people who said they had thought about attempting suicide.
The unsafe conditions kept children across the island largely indoors, where they couldn’t do activities that needed light or electricity. Because so many people had moved in with extended families for the hurricane, children removed from their neighborhoods were surrounded by strangers. Streets clogged with debris and crushed glass posed a long-term hazard.
Schools were closed for months, and even when they reopened, classes didn’t immediately begin and not every teacher had returned.
Ammirati said the existing network of mental health professionals in Puerto Rico was strong, but because the scope of devastation was so enormous, those providers needed psychological support too, like on an airplane when passengers are instructed to put an oxygen mask on themselves before helping children.