New studies find that after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the U.S. territory last September there's been a staggering increase in suicide rates.

By Thatiana Diaz
February 28, 2018 10:34 AM

It’s been over five months since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, leaving the island with minimal resources, limited forms of communication, and large swaths of the U.S. territory without electricity. Recent studies now find that the natural disaster’s devastating affects may have led to increased suicide rates in the local population.

According to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, there’s been a 29 percent spike in suicide rates compared to the previous year. In 2017, 253 residents committed suicide compared to 196 in 2016, which had been the lowest number of suicides on the island in two decades.

While the Department of Health’s report does not make a correlation between the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria and the surge in suicides, experts say there may be a connection.

Puerto Rico Faces Extensive Damage After Hurricane Maria
Mourners and cemetery workers gather at the gravesite of Wilfredo Torres Rivera, 58, who died October 13 after jumping off a bridge into a lake, three weeks after Hurricane Maria.
| Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“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,” Julio Santana Mariño, a psychology professor at Universidad Carlos Albizu in Puerto Rico, told local newspaper El Nuevo Día.

The island also saw a threefold increase in calls made to a suicide prevention hotline post-Hurricane Maria. Three months after the superstorm struck last September, calls made to a crisis line run by Puerto Rico’s Department of Health increased 246 percent — 3,050 calls — in comparison to the same months the previous year, according to a new report by the health department’s Commission for Suicide Prevention.

Puerto Rico remains in dire need of help. When FEMA stated that aid is “less necessary” on the island in January, politicians like San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz vehemently disagreed and the agency reversed its position.

If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255