Ten months after Hurricane Maria pummeled into the island of Puerto Rico, things have begun to get better.
Despite some signs of recovery, mental – and physical – health problems are ongoing. The official death toll was recorded at 64, but a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that it is closer to 5,000 (N Engl J Med. 2018 May 28.
Week-long training gets underway
A few weeks ago, I joined a team of mental health professionals affiliated with the International Center for Psychosocial Trauma at the University of Missouri–Columbia (UMICPT) that went to Puerto Rico for a week. Under the leadership of UMICPT founder, our goals were train our colleagues and teachers how to help children suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder after Maria. Several months earlier, our team had traveled to the island to train doctors, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health workers in San Juan and Ponce, and we were eager to return to continue our work.
Carlos Sellas, PsyD, a faculty member and supervisor of child and adolescent mental health clinics at Ponce Health Sciences University, attended the training. Dr. Sellas reported that somatic symptoms among the children had escalated after the hurricane. One child, whose grandfather suffered a myocardial infarction after Maria, repeatedly complains of chest pain. Pseudoseizures also have been observed.
Dr. Sellas said he also is seeing increased suicidal ideation and behavior in children and adolescents. In addition, some children are reporting auditory and visual hallucinations, and phobic reaction to rainstorms and lightening – in addition to fears of the dark.