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. It is also helping Puerto Rico prepare for future events, 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 are primary obstacles to effective recovery on their islands. Left unaddressed, this situation will lead to chronically 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.
Post-traumatic stress has held me back for decades. This is no longer. I now see hope sprouting everywhere and the opportunity to grow exponentially.
Community Leader in Culebra, Puerto Rico
The program is spectacular, it opens your mind to new possibilities and provides you with very useful tools that you can incorporate into your own life to develop as a professional and as a human being.
Community Psychologist, Aibonito
Excellent, very necessary training. It’s necessary to strengthen and restore the emotional life of first responders, to later transmit health and well-being.
Monserrate Allende, MD, ASSMCA (Mental Services Administration Health and Addiction)
It has been a unique, motivating and great teaching experience for me. Learning to breathe, to meditate, to take every opportunity of life to grow. I know that it will help me in my personal and professional development.
Leslie Demorizi Guzman, MSW Social Worker, ASSMCA (Mental Services Administration Health and Addiction)
Through intense days that were full of discovery and power the leaders of this program guided us to observe what the unconscious communicates to us and how the body and mind have the power to heal. This training has strengthened my capacity to work with others and my ability to use my own best tool: myself.
Nancy Ruiz, School Psychologist at Project Launch: Fajardo
Trainees will in the coming year bring mind-body medicine techniques to thousands of children and adults in their communities, including Culebra, Vieques, Yabucoa, Fajardo and Loiza.
We are ready to expand the program in Puerto Rico and partner with health systems, municipalities, schools, community centers, churches and local social service organizations to provide life-changing support to hundreds of thousands of children and adults across the island. The model we offer 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
For inquiries about our work in Puerto Rico contact Tina Fisher, Director of Special Programs at [email protected].