Puerto Rican Children Show Signs of PTSD After Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria has affected the mental health of children living in Puerto Rico, according to a new study. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on April 26 found that 7.2 percent of youth reported “clinically significant” symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017. The research was conducted by the Puerto Rico Department of Education, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Hurricane Assessment and Referral Tool, and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The hurricane’s death toll was estimated at 2,975 but could be higher, CBS News previously reported. The survey noted that 29.9 percent of youth believed their lives were at risk during the hurricane. Following the natural disaster, 83.9 percent of youth saw homes that were damaged and 57.8 percent said they had a family member or a friend leave the island after the hurricane. CNN estimated estimated that, between September and November of 2017, 179,000 airline passengers left Puerto Rico for the continental United States. Over 45 percent of youth reported experiencing damage to their own homes, and 32.2 percent experienced food shortages because of the storm, according to the study.

Nearly 17 percent of youth said they did not have electricity for five to nine months after the storm touched down on the island. Puerto Rican officials claimed that power had been fully restored to the island by August 2018, almost a year later, The New York Times reported.

Joy Lynn Suárez, a psychology professor at Carlos Albizu University in San Juan and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian that agencies on the island must have a plan in case of another natural disaster.

“This study shows significant evidence of the need for additional funding to hire and train mental health professionals who can provide evidence-based therapies for children in need,” Suárez told the publication. “It also means that we really need to pay attention to preparedness for future disasters and mak[e] sure... that agencies have a plan of how to be prepared and be able to provide support if this ever happens again.” Earlier this month, Oprah Winfrey donated $2 million to the UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico fund and the Flamboyan Arts Fund, which was created by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to support the island’s art and culture.

“I was so moved by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commitment to bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico and support the community that served him growing up that I wanted to join in the revitalization efforts of an island so rich in culture, beauty, and heritage,” Winfrey said in a statement to the Hispanic Federation.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.