Sites assessed per region.
In September 2018, Hurricane Maria left a trail of devastation across Puerto Rico, resulting in a loss of lives, limited access to water and electricity, and damage to houses and infrastructure.
Throughout our programming and response efforts, we noticed that Puerto Ricans were experiencing mental health challenges in addition to loss of homes, possessions and livelihoods. The signs included, but were not limited to feelings of loss, fear, grief, hopelessness, isolation, anger, distress, nervousness, and uncertainty, especially in areas with fewer resources.
International Medical Corps undertook an assessment to document these mental health challenges and make evidence-based recommendations for programming. Documenting why we do what we do along with lessons learned during an intervention is a critical component of our learning and our success. Our new knowledge makes it possible for us to make valuable contributions to the collective knowledge base of the humanitarian community.
We found that the population’s mental health was affected by unmet basic needs, poor access to medical services and a lack of safe places to live, among other socioeconomic issues. The findings and recommendations from our assessment have led to us taking a community-based approach in planning. Our staff facilitate awareness sessions to improve coping skills in a crisis and when experiencing strong emotions, support suicide prevention, and make referrals to higher levels of care as needed.
In addition to broadcasting radio shows, as described in our last update, International Medical Corps’ staff has distributed flow charts of the health centers and hospitals with mental health services and counseling hospitals to providers, to strengthen the referral network. We have also facilitated training on an approach known as psychological first aid for 136 community leaders, school teachers and community health workers in Puerto Rico, which teaches both professionals and non-professionals how to provide compassionate emotional and practical support to people under stress.
Despite this work, more is needed, to:
- Strengthen suicide prevention efforts among youth and older adults
- Identify referral pathways for patients experiencing complex mental health challenges
- Improve data collection tools, documentation and reporting
- Advocate for training for appropriate care for vulnerable and at-risk groups, including people living with disabilities and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence
International Medical Corps thanks the GlobalGiving community for its generous support of our mental health programming in Puerto Rico.
Our team preparing for awareness sessions.
Learning coping mechanisms during focus groups.
Interviewing community members for the assessment.