Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Six Months after Maria and suicide hotline calls double in Puerto Rico

Magdaliz Medina struggles each day to meet life’s basic needs: electricity, water, food, but there’s a darker challenge she faces six months after Hurricane Maria: her mental stability and the crushing depression that visits her each day in her darkened home.

“I sit and cry all day,” said Medina, 42, who has lived without power or water for more than six months. “I was depressed before the storm. Maria made it worse.”

Puerto Rico is facing a mental health crisis across the island. Besides working to restore electricity and other basic needs to residents, state officials also are scrambling to meet the mental health needs of their residents.

Crisis managers at a suicide prevention hotline in Bayamón receive 500 to 600 calls a day from people around the island in varying stages of desperation. Some callers just want to talk about their loss of home, income, family members who have fled to the mainland USA, while others call with very specific suicide plans.

The island already had been wrestling with a rise in mental illness during its 10-year recession that sparked widespread unemployment and family separation caused by migration.

The number of suicide-related calls to the hotline more than doubled from 2,046 in August to 4,548 in January, according to department statistics. Suicide attempts also have climbed from 782 in August to 1,075 in January, data show.

Many callers display acute mental disorientation brought on by Maria, said Claudee Garnett, one of the crisis managers at the hotline call center: “They don’t have basic needs: roof, home, water, electricity,” he said. “Their lives have changed.”