Calls to PAS emergency line continue at ‘exponential increase,’ ASSMCA chief says

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

As the COVID-19 pandemic maintains its grip on Puerto Rico, officials from the Mental Health & Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) said Wednesday that the agency’s PAS hotline has received over a million phone calls during the public health emergency.

The information was revealed by the ASSMCA administrator, Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, during a press conference held in Guillermo Arbona Hall at Health Department headquarters, where the administration released their recent public service announcement titled “Te Queremos con Vida” (We Want You Alive), which encourages islanders to face the current challenges of the coronavirus pandemic from a positive perspective.

“During the pandemic, which includes the year 2020 and part of this year, if we add both of them together, we would have more than 1,010,708 phone calls,” Rodríguez Mateo said, noting that in 2020 ASSMCA ended the year with 922,797 calls.

As for the reasons people have contacted the emergency line during the national emergency, 18% (186,721) of the calls were related to the coronavirus disease, 11% (116,282) were related to the 2020 earthquakes that struck southern Puerto Rico, and 4% (42,720) were related to adversities caused by quarantine or isolation. The remaining 67% consisted of calls related to suicide prevention and other mental health issues.

Regarding this year, Rodríguez Mateo said the emergency line had received 87,911 phone calls up to Wednesday, which he called “an exponential increase” compared to an average year before 2017, when the island entered a dark period of natural disasters and a global pandemic.

Furthermore, he confirmed that most phone calls have come from women.

“During the pandemic emergency, too many phone calls have been received along with a sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and heavy concern over economic issues, unemployment and on who would take care of the children when both parents had to go out to work,” said Dr. Monserrate Allende, who is the coordinator for the hotline.

Allende said some parents said during the emergency calls that they had resigned from their jobs to care for and educate their children during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, many of our phone calls also involved the death of their loved ones in and out of Puerto Rico due to COVID-19 and how to deal with the grieving, which has caused a great imbalance in the emotional stability of their families,” she said.

“When it came to men, they were mostly concerned about economic issues, such as not having enough resources to cover their family; in the case of women, women would call mostly to share their worries about taking care of either their main family circle or their extended [family] members,” added the PAS coordinator. “The island’s mental health continues to be affected negatively in every aspect.”

When the STAR asked if the ASSMCA would be conducting conversations to help residents with either no health insurance or private insurance that does not cover mental health services, Rodríguez Mateo said that ASSMCA has different programs and agreements with mental health clinics to provide aid to people who face economic scarcity.

Anyone needing emotional help is encouraged to call ASSMCA’s PAS hotline at 1-800-981-0023, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or download the mobile app, available on Android and Apple devices.

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