According to the Commission for the Prevention of Suicide, the island of Puerto Rico experienced a 16 percent increase in suicides last year, with nearly one person a day taking their life during the month of November.
After Hurricane Maria, 26 people took their own lives in November, or nearly one person a day. The suicide report also found that 85 percent of suicides are committed by men, and 14 percent are committed by women. Many health specialists and doctors said the spike in suicides can be linked to the aftermath of the storm that struck the island on September 20 and the destruction of basic resources like food, water, electricity and housing.
Dr. Kenira Thompson, head of mental health services at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico, said more patients are coming in following the hurricane.
“A lot of patients are presenting severe mental health issues since the storm and the number of patients in our clinic has increased dramatically,” said Thompson. “Not one person that has lived through the storm can't say they weren’t touched by what happened."
An inadequate response to the storm has left many feeling forgotten and desperate, said Alfredo Carrasquillo, the executive leadership coach and organizational development consultant at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan. He added that often there is not much help to be had for those who are impoverished.
"When someone expressed he or she is contemplating suicide, the typical answer is to take this person to the hospital or an institution. The healthcare system, especially for poor people, is a limited amount of days," said Carrasquillo. "They are given medication and are sent home."
Apart from suicide, other mental health concerns have seen an uptick as well:
Locals are also dealing with other mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Thompson said clinics like the one in Ponce are doing the best they can to provide mental health assistance for those that come forward, and are also helping them mentally prepare for the next hurricane season, which begins in June.