When talking about the impact of natural disasters, people mostly discuss death tolls, the economic burden, damages to infrastructure or outbreak diseases. What about the mental stabilities of those still surviving, though? Don’t they matter, too?
When Hurricane Maria first struck Puerto Rico back in September of 2017, Puerto Rico became black as the electrical power grid was completely destroyed, leaving 1.5 million people (half of the population) without electricity. The damage was estimated to be $85 billion, worsening the economic crisis that had already been going on for the past 10 years. Lacking food and basic utilities, survivors got affected by an outbreak of leptospirosis (headaches, fevers, muscle pains, lung bleeding) — a bacterial infection contracted through water that has been contaminated by animals’ urine. Death toll by the end of November 2017 was approximately 1,052 in numbers. Infrastructures were left beyond repair, with vegetation being completely destroyed by the category 5 hurricane.
With all of the calamities mentioned above, it cannot be denied that people want to escape reality. The constant negative thinking of “Oh, the hurricane is gonna come back! The same thing will happen again, I will lose everything again” is suffocating. Reliving the traumatic experience against their will, survivors are aggravated with suicidal thoughts.
Experts might say that doing routine will overcome the trauma itself; nonetheless, psychological impact of natural disasters is permanent. Through past disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake, mental illness becomes a common problem. The topic of mental health is rarely discussed by journalists, who are mostly interested in covering infrastructure damage and economic loss.
Hurricane Maria increased suicide rates to roughly 30%. Linea PAS, a mental health administration in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, has been busy. There are about 12 people working together in Linea PAS, crammed in tiny cubicles, to answer suicidal phone calls from survivors.
From the video footage, it can be seen how Linea PAS’ staff patiently hindered the survivors from having suicidal thoughts. It was genuinely difficult for the workers to console the suicidal survivors, when they themselves experienced no water or electricity. The majority of the staff also lost basic utilities, such clean clothes. Besides, it seemed unbearable to console people who did not even have a place to sleep — the soothing words would sound mildly hypocritical. Still, these suicide prevention staff were attempting to spread these words:
“Suicide is never an option. You, as an individual, are important. Material things can be achieved again, but life can’t be recovered.”
Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Drake