Months after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island of Puerto Rico and left it with devastation and destruction that it may never fully recover from, a new heartbreaking trend has emerged—in the form of local suicides.
In an exclusive report from Splinter, in the months following Hurricane Maria, the number of suicides on the island of Puerto Rico has risen to alarmingly high levels. As the media continues to report less and less on Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts, this deadly trend has gone largely unreported as local residents are suffering in silence.
Hector Ramon Ortiz is one of 236 Puerto Ricans who killed themselves in 2017, according to a report released by the Commission for the Prevention of Suicide. His death also belongs to a growing number of suicides on the island that increased by 55 percent in the last four months of 2017 following Hurricane Maria, compared to the same period in 2016.
Ortiz is an extreme case of what happens when mental illness goes undiagnosed or untreated. And he isn’t alone. Underneath the debris, a silent mental health crisis is burgeoning in Puerto Rico, with a record number of people reporting anxiety and depression. Others with pre-existing mental health conditions are finding little solace, as they are unable to keep their routines and have had difficulty refilling their prescriptions.
According to local authorities, the territory was already struggling with an increasing onset of mental illness brought on by poverty, soaring unemployment, and family separation amid a decade-long recession.
The disturbing report also goes on to reveal how mental health issues, evaluations and treatments are largely ignored in Puerto Rico due to stigmas and stereotypes. These undiagnosed conditions are also factors that are contributing to the rising suicides rates:
People don’t openly discuss depression on the island. It was such a low priority that when the University of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico’s Administration for Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services commissioned a report, it hadn’t been studied by health officials in more than 30 years. That report found that one out of every 10 Puerto Ricans suffers from depression and anxiety disorders. The study also found that services are not available to people still considered “functional.”
Within the last few weeks the suicides in Puerto Rico have claimed younger victims, ages 11, 14, 24 and 28. The rebuilding process will be a long, hard road, but we hope and pray that Puerto Rico will come back from this natural disaster stronger than ever. Our hearts continue to go out to the victims.
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