On September 13, 2017, hurricane Maria swept through all of Puerto Rico, causing large-scale destruction to men and property. It brought in its wake not only the highest level of physical destruction, but also its attendant problems. These include a complete breakdown of necessities such as lack of food, water, electricity, medicine, communication among the islanders.
The deprivation the Puerto Ricans suffered took its toll on them physically and mentally. It would be short-sighted to say that they suffered the usual forms of destruction that hurricanes cause, but here, this destruction went on to make them suffer mentally too. Let us see how:
For days after the disaster, Puerto Ricans, particularly the elderly, went without electricity, food and medication. Living in utter darkness, abject poverty and lack of medical facilities has made them depressed and fearful of the future. They are scared to be alone and their equilibrium has been challenged by this event. In fact, two people have committed suicide because of the extent of shock they have experienced.
Anxiety and despair:
Seeing the number of deaths all around them due to mudslides and drowning, apart from power outages for long periods, some Puerto Ricans are anxious and wonder what is in store for them. Often, they are single people without families and have to fend for themselves in this crisis. The hopelessness of this situation makes them despondent and it is not surprising to hear that one more person has committed suicide here.
The connection between power outages for 15 days or more is directly linked to health issues. This is especially true of hospitals that depend on electricity to use oxygen and dialysis machines, refrigerated insulin medicines, conduct emergency operations and much more. The absence of power in a hospital can mean not just an inability to offer timely medical help but also prevent any forthcoming mental problems, as a result. Being in the dark also endangers people’s security and safety.
In fact, the ill effects of a hurricane on people’s mental health can take disastrous proportions. For instance, the emergency rooms of hospitals tend to show up cases of substance abuse, mood disorders, psychosis and suicides.
Why mental health is disturbed in such catastrophes:
When people do not find access to necessities like food, electricity, water, transportation and life support devices during catastrophes like hurricanes, their mental health is hit badly. Such situations cause heightened loneliness and isolate people from their community. This social isolation leads to mental stress, particularly among seniors.
Further, the stress of the chaos all around and no possibility of a quick turnaround also plays its own role in deteriorating mental health. These extreme conditions–unknown to them until then–make them frightened and anxious.
Even after electricity is restored, the risk for leftover effects like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to reign supreme. Just the fact that these sensitive people have witnessed deaths or serious injuries caused due to power breakdowns can cause PTSD, which can also be life threatening.
While Puerto Rico is limping back to normalcy, a lot needs to be done for people to feel safe and restore their mental health