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Six months after Maria: A post-hurricane examination of mental health and associated risk factors in older Puerto Ricans

Jani L. Swiatek, BS, Joseph P. Corcoran IV, BA, Frederick V. Ramsey, PhD, Nina T. Gentile, MD

Abstract


Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, there were elevated rates of depression and suicide in Puerto Rico. This study evaluates mental health in older and elderly Puerto Ricans 6 months after the hurricanes and suggests strategies for improving future psychosocial responses. Patients attending clinics were evaluated for depression (Patient Health Questionnaire [PHQ-9]) and suicide risk (Ask Suicide-Screening Questions [ASQ]) and were surveyed about their perceived safety, designated as a proxy for anxiety. Used in conjunction, PHQ-9 and ASQ were found to identify a greater proportion of individuals experiencing adverse mental health effects than if each instrument was used in isolation. Patients were also surveyed about time to water and electricity restoration, and it was found that prolonged time to water restoration was associated with increased prevalence and severity of depression and decreased perceived safety. Based on collected patient data (n = 523), using multiple mental health screening tools for diagnosis, improving perceptions of home safety or anxiety, and prioritizing water restoration may reduce mental health sequelae in the elderly and enhance the effect of psychosocial responses following disasters.


Keywords


disaster response, mental health, Hurricane Maria, depression, water, utility restoration, elderly, older adults

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References


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