Puerto Rico has a mental health struggle on its hands, and we can’t forget how this happens

November 7, 2017

Though our timelines are filled with considerably less outrage than they were several weeks ago, the situation is still rough in Puerto Rico — and that’s saying the very least. Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club has referred to the landscape as “post-apocalyptic.” The water-surrounded American territory was hit by the devastating Hurricane Maria on September 20th, and many inhabitants are still without power more than six weeks later. As the president fumbles and fails to find the appropriate words and deeds to carry Puerto Ricans through this crisis and mainland citizens send thoughts and prayers, it’s becoming more and more obvious who actually cares to facilitate expeditious and efficient healing in Puerto Rico. Given the multifaceted nature of the situation, it’s easy to see how anyone could feel overwhelmed about it. Even the basic issues of water, food/supplies, and shelter are still out of control, and require so much aid and ongoing attention. Overwhelming as the whole picture in Puerto Rico is right now, one aspect that’s being under-discussed is the welfare of the children of Puerto Rico — particularly their mental health.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Though our timelines are filled with considerably less outrage than they were several weeks ago, the situation is still rough in Puerto Rico — and that’s saying the very least. Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club has referred to the landscape as “post-apocalyptic.” 

The water-surrounded American territory was hit by the devastating Hurricane Maria on September 20th, and many inhabitants are still without power more than six weeks later. As the president fumbles and fails to find the appropriate words and deeds to carry Puerto Ricans through this crisis and mainland citizens send thoughts and prayers, it’s becoming more and more obvious who actually cares to facilitate expeditious and efficient healing in Puerto Rico.

Given the multifaceted nature of the situation, it’s easy to see how anyone could feel overwhelmed about it. Even the basic issues of water, food/supplies, and shelter are still out of control, and require so much aid and ongoing attention.

Overwhelming as the whole picture in Puerto Rico is right now, one aspect that’s being under-discussed is the welfare of the children of Puerto Rico — particularly their mental health.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images


And we get it. Dealing with any type of trauma is difficult. What makes it even harsher, though, is when so many of the people tasked with navigating the fallout are way too young to have anywhere near the emotional resources to begin to process what’s happening, let alone to cope with it. We’re certainly not saying that the adults of Puerto Rico are markedly better off mentally and emotionally, but the two groups are dealing with different mental capacities for something as disheartening as mass, physical devastation.

Jesús Colón Berlingeri, mayor of Orocovis, spoke on the mental health of Puerto Rican children directly in a talk with USA Today. The mayor shared that “[t]hese are the things (referring to Maria) that provoke the children to be withdrawn, a little sad, and it could affect their academic performance”.

As someone who once lived without electricity and water as a young person, I can agree that not having what’s needed for survival or base-level comfort can put a kid in a less-cheery place psychologically. During my own experience, my mind felt fried, my grades were indeed garbage, and I didn’t know what to make of the world. That wasn’t nearly on the same scale as what’s happening in Puerto Rico, though, so while I can relate to some extent, I know I’ll never fully comprehend the true gravity. But I know how my experience with instability impacted my life, so I can only imagine what it’s like for the children of Puerto Rico now and what it will be like for them forever carry the memory of this fear and insecurity.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images


Fortunately, schools having begun promoting mental wellness, with “Save The Children” beginning an Orocovis-based program that serves to express solidarity between students and adults. Teacher and organizer Eugenio Soto also spoke during USA Today’s video segment on children’s mental health, pointing out various concerns the kids in the program were able to express once they felt comfortable enough. Soto shared that things are getting better, with the students becoming more social over time and the general understanding that everyone is experiencing the same events, even though the perceptions of kids versus adults differ.

We must also do our part, when and however we can, to assure kids are getting counseled through this tragic experience. And of course, you can contribute to Save the Children so that more staff members and supplies can be sent to Puerto Rico.

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