Six months since Puerto Rico was torn apart by Hurricane Maria, suicide rates continue to soar as the island struggles to regain its footing.
According to reports, following 2017’s natural disasters on September 20, the number of suicides spiked were seen to spike by nearly 30 percent, the Puerto Rican Department of Health announced.
In 2016, there were 196 victims of suicide registered, the lowest rate recorded in twenty years. However, one year later, health experts had registered a total 253 suicide cases, the highest rate since 2013. The majority of victims, roughly 86 percent, were men aged between 55 and 69.
As of January, the Puerto Rican crisis hotline has received a total of 3,050 calls from suicide attempts, a 246 percent spike from last year.
An additional 9,645 people admitted to calling the hotline in the past three months after considering suicide which is an 83 percent increase from 2016’s records.
Homelessness, unemployment, lack of basic necessities are believed to be large contributing factors to the cloud of stress and anxiety hovering over the island, said Psychology Professor Julio Santana Marino from Puerto Rico’s Universidad Carlos Albizu.
"It's normal for there to be family conflicts, but when you add the stress of more than five months without power, without food, living patterns change ... it makes it harder for people to manage daily life," Santana told El Nuevo Dia in February.
The territory continues to experience the longest recorded power outage in U.S. history and health professionals say this also contributes to the prolonged feelings of depression.
“Such prolonged darkness is insidious to community mental health,” said First Deputy Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Sandro Galea, dean at the Boston University School of Public Health explained that a study should be conducted which links the physical and mental strain victims experience in post-disaster situations, “The stigma that you can just “get over” mental illness remains. In truth, one can get over mental illness roughly the same way one can get over a broken bone by oneself—with difficulty, and likely in a way that will not result in proper healing.”
Last week, distraught family members, Puerto Ricans, and members of civil rights groups paraded outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA building in Washington D.C. to protest the stagnant state of affairs on the island and to demand government aid.
FEMA has come under severe criticism for its failure to provide help to Puerto Ricans in dire situations. The U.S. agency has failed to respond to people looking for respite amid situations demanding urgency. With the island in crisis, FEMA has rejected the pleas of Puerto Ricans who don't have a deed to their home.