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Children exposed to disastrous hurricanes are likely to suffer long-term mental health effects, according to experts.
In Puerto Rico, children’s mental health has become a growing concern for the government after Hurricane Maria struck the country. Jesús Colón Berlingeri, mayor of Puerto Rican municipality Orocovis, said that many of the island’s children still could not fathom the hurricane’s impact. They have yet to come to terms with the experiences they went through, such as watching their houses fall apart and seeing their loved ones become ill or pass away.
Brain experts claim that witnessing destruction can harm the brain. They added that the effect is more severe if the destruction is experienced by the victim’s family members.
Children in the US also experienced similar issues after Hurricane Katrina struck. Irwin Redlener, head of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of the Children’s Health Fund, conducted a study on Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. Findings revealed that one-third of child victims reported at least one mental health concern after the storm. Furthermore, these children had a higher tendency to suffer from emotional issues than those who were unaffected by the disaster. However, only less than 50% of parents have the means to seek professional help.
To address this concern, a number of institutions have carried out some initiatives in Puerto Rico.
For instance, students and staff from the Ponce Health Science University in Puerto Rico visited shelters and affected communities to extend their help. International NGO Save the Children also set up a temporary child care facility, where around 150 children have already enrolled. The facility provides children a chance to be in the company of teachers, social workers, and other students. Various programs allow them to share their experiences and have a better understanding of what they went through.