The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico—with support from Direct Relief, the Greater New York Hospital Association, the Medtronic Foundation, the Hispanic Federation, and Systema de Salud Menonita—are bringing an evidence-based program of population-wide healing and resiliency-building to Puerto Rico. The the Puerto Rico Healing Alliance is addressing the devastating psychological impact of Hurricanes Maria and Irma – increases in suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress – as well as burnout and secondary trauma among caregivers. The alliance has also helped Puerto Rico prepare for future events—including the catastrophic 2020 earthquake—building resilience, and increasing local capacity to address large-scale psychological trauma.
Puerto Rico faced major challenges before the arrival of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. In 2016, 56% of children on the island lived in poverty and 36% lived in extreme poverty. In May of 2017, the government declared bankruptcy, with an unprecedented $123 billion of debt. Then came the storms. Reports put the official death count between 2,658 and 3,290, making Hurricane Maria the deadliest natural disaster to affect the United States in over 100 years. Hundreds of businesses and schools permanently closed, and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies estimated that 14% of the population would emigrate within two years.
Population-wide stress and trauma are some of the gravest and longest lasting consequences of natural disaster, particularly when compounded by existing poverty as in Puerto Rico. Approximately one million Puerto Ricans are expected to present with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the storms. Leaders regularly state that widespread stress and depression caused by climate disasters are primary obstacles to effective recovery on their islands and are concerned that this level of chronic distress will lead to debilitated, despairing populations.
In June 2018, CMBM Founder & Executive Director James S. Gordon, M.D. and CMBM’s organizational team began to take the first steps in creating a large-scale, island-wide program for population-wide healing and resiliency-building in Puerto Rico. The team visited some of the island’s most devastated and marginalized communities, including Yabucoa, Loiza, and Culebra. With the support of the Ricky Martin Foundation and Psychology Association of Puerto Rico, CMBM hosted workshops, spoke to community members and leaders about how CMBM’s ground-breaking program may be helpful to those suffering the psychological impacts of Hurricane Maria – sharp increases in suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress – as well as burnout and secondary trauma among caregivers.
In the summer of 2019, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico, with support from Direct Relief, Greater New York Hospital Association, the Medtronic Foundation, the Hispanic Federation, and Systema de Salud Menonita, began the first phase of a “train-the trainer” program for 70 service providers and community leaders from the health, mental health, social welfare, and education sectors, including from:
- ASSMCA (Mental Health and Addiction Services Administration
- Departments of Health & Education
- ACUDEN/Head Start
- Early Head Start & Project Launch
- Hospitals & Clinics
- Social service organizations working with families and youth
These professional trainees are deeply committed to caring for those who have lost family members, homes, jobs, and schools as a result of the hurricanes and subsequent economic decline. The training was universally positive for the participants. In addition to what they learned, they were able to experience profound personal relief from stress and distress they have been carrying since the hurricanes, as well as earlier traumatic events.
Trainees have brought CMBM’s program of self-care and mutual support to thousands of children and adults in their communities, including Culebra, Vieques, Yabucoa, Fajardo, and Loiza.
We hope to expand our reach in Puerto Rico and partner with health systems, municipalities, schools, community centers, churches and local social service organizations to provide hundreds of thousands of adults and children with life-changing support. Our model is readily integrated into existing health, social welfare, and educational programs, and can become the foundation for an innovative, sustainable, island-wide primary mental health care program.
In the Media
Ayuda especial para los culebrenses
For inquiries about our work in Puerto Rico, contact Steph Strek, Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.