The mental health toll of Puerto Rico’s prolonged power outages – Salon

Why did the stress endure for so long? Hurricanes and loss of power also lead to a loss of essential services for communities — such as access to food, clean water, transportation and communication. Lasting home damage can induce anxiety and depression among the residents in the affected areas, especially for those with preexisting mental health problems.

Puerto Rico is missing these basic services, making daily life more stressful and thus more likely to cause mental suffering over the weeks and months ahead.

Who’s affected?

Mental health issues reach all demographic groups. However, some seem to be more strongly affected by power outages than others.

During the Northeast blackout in 2003, which occurred over three hot August days, women and the elderly had 19 percent and 158 percent higher risks, respectively, for respiratory hospital admission than during the nonblackout period.

Our research suggests that socioeconomic status also significantly influences people’s susceptibility to adverse mental health after a disaster. Generally, groups of low socioeconomic status are more susceptible to heat’s impact. But, when that heat coincided with a blackout, we found that the trend reversed: Higher socioeconomic status groups were more likely to be hospitalized during a blackout.

Hospital admissions for respiratory diseases among high-income people significantly increased by 23 percent after the Northeast blackout. Our preliminary data also show that whites had significantly higher rates of emergency department visits than black and Hispanic individuals after Hurricane Sandy.

Why? One possible explanation is that groups of high socioeconomic status are more likely to use nebulizers, air conditioners or other electric home aids. Their dependence on this equipment could make them more susceptible to a hurricane’s effect during a power outage.

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