More than 200 Puerto Ricans committed suicide in 2017, a 29-percent increase from the prior year’s suicide rate, according to a report released by the Commission for the Prevention of Suicide.
The report, which was released last week by the Department of Health of Puerto Rico, found that roughly 86 percent of suicides were committed by men and 14 percent were committed by women. In December 2017, 20 people took their own lives.
The suicide rate had significantly dropped in 2016 by 21 percent from 2015, but it had increased again this year. Regions such as Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Ponce and Mayagüez have the highest rates of suicide.
Many health specialists and doctors previously told Newsweek that the spike in suicides could be due to Hurricane Maria, which slammed the U.S. territory on September 20 with more than 30 inches of rain. Dr. Kenira Thompson, who provides mental health services at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico, said she has seen a rise in patients since the storm.
“A lot of patients are presenting severe mental health issues since the storm and the number of patients in our clinic has increased dramatically,” Thompson previously told Newsweek. “Not one person that has lived through the storm can't say they weren’t touched by what happened."
Hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico and caused a lot of destruction, knocking down trees and causing massive flooding to the U.S. territory. Many locals were left to deal with the aftermath of not having basic resources like electricity, housing, clean water or food. After the tempest, it was reported that the death toll was at 64, but reports estimate there have been more than 1,000 deaths from the storm.
After a natural disaster, many people are more focused on finding shelter and basic needs than worrying about their mental health, Christian Burgess, director of the Disaster Distress Helpline, an organization that provides crisis counseling to people experiencing emotional distress related after natural or human disasters, told Newsweek. Victims of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Maria can experience symptoms of depression and suicidal tendencies, she added.
“It is not a surprise to me in the months following, that there are higher rates of suicide and depression,” said Burgess. “It’s the degree of trauma in the months after the event, like the loss of a loved one, or being displaced from their home, can trigger these feelings.”
Locals living in rural towns on the island like Cayey and Utado have a difficult time finding care due to the lack of power, shelter and transportation. Lawmakers are currently questioning why the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave a $156 million contract to a small Atlanta-based company to provide 30 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico when only 50,000 meals were delivered.
Without the proper help, Burgess has said many people living on the U.S territory are having a difficult time rebuilding their lives almost four months after the storm.
“There are still major power outages and transportation issues that face the island. Many people cannot get the support or health care centers they need,” said Burgess.
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