By The Star Staff
The main private institution for the provision of medical services in the area of mental health in Puerto Rico outlined on Tuesday a series of tips and alternatives to help citizens experience a Christmas season free of problems, anxiety and depression.
The San Juan Capestrano Hospital System of Puerto Rico called for preventive measures to be taken to protect the population from complications that in many cases end up in the emergency room of a hospital that treats mental health conditions.
“We are in a country where we have the longest Christmas [season] in the world, which leads us to reflect on the fact that we can enjoy these holidays without ever abandoning a series of initiatives to combat nostalgia, sadness or cases of depression that worsen in many human beings with the arrival of Christmas and the festive season,” said Dr. Margarita Francia Martínez, a psychologist at San Juan Capestrano Hospital, who urged citizens “to take care of excesses and not to abandon your treatments to avoid relapses and complications related to your mental health.”
“We call on the community to identify and help older adults who mostly live alone, adolescents who have changes in their personality, and children whose lives have been affected by the divorce of their parents or the death of a loved one or close relative,” she said.
Island residents are influenced by high technology, the effects of social networks, group behavior, drugs or excessive alcohol consumption. Such influences, when uncontrolled, generate serious conflicts in human behavior, which sooner or later force people to seek professional help in the area of mental health, another San Capestrano official noted.
“Our hospital receives more than 5,000 patients annually. Similarly, the nine partial clinics of the San Juan Capestrano Hospital System handle no less than 30 cases a day, mostly women and adolescents. Specifically during these Christmas days we see that people abandon their treatments to enjoy the Christmas holidays,” said Marta Rivera Plaza, CEO of the San Juan Capestrano Hospital System. “Apart from the danger that this represents, this practice is one that we must avoid since statistics show us that after the Christmas season many patients have to be treated in an emergency way because their condition worsens. The institutions that provide services in the area of mental health care for patients with disorders such as: anxiety, substance abuse, mood disorders, major depression, social phobia or bipolar disorder (all mentioned in level of importance or frequency). However, suicide attempts are more common than people imagine, being the third leading cause of violent death in the country. According to the numbers reported by the ASSMCA [the Spanish initials for the central government’s Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration], 85% of suicides occur in men, showing that it is carried out between the ages of 18 and 92 years of age. Those same reports show that the cities of Mayagüez, Aguadilla and Caguas have the highest number of suicides, which contrasts with Santa Isabel, Toa Alta and Loíza with the lowest number of suicides on the island. Last year, the helplines received more than 12,240 cases in need of immediate assistance.”
Dr. William Lugo, medical director of the San Juan Capestrano Hospital and its inpatient clinics, stated: “We have seen an increase in the use of controlled substances, specifically the emergence of new drugs, mostly created by laboratories that in many cases are not recorded in the toxicological tests that are performed on the patient, which complicates the picture.”
“We see that in the group of those affected, 38% are adults (18 to 64 years old) and 20% are adolescents,” he said. “It is important to note that […] San Juan Capestrano Hospital treats patients who mostly need hospitalization to stabilize their mental health problem. However, once our patients show signs of improvement and move on to the next stage of treatment, we find that the available appointments are not so easy to achieve due to the lack of professionals to serve the population.”
Added the psychologist Francia Martínez: “We have to be very aware of those people who present symptoms such as being away from their relatives, being locked in a room for a long time, drastic changes in eating habits, memory loss, spontaneous aggressiveness or comments about suicide.”
“At the slightest sign of these symptoms, family members or guardians should consult a mental health professional so that help can be coordinated with the patient,” she said. “The diagnosis of a mental health condition should be entrusted to a professional and not to a person related to or a neighbor of the patient. The elderly should not be alone this Christmas season; family members or guardians should communicate with or visit them frequently and, as much as possible, gatherings with family or friends should be planned.
“People who have lost a family member or friend tend to grieve during the first annual period of absence of that person they loved or cherished so much. There is no doubt that the best gift that a person with mental health problems can receive will be the attention and demonstration of appreciation from that family member or friend who always cared about them or who has accompanied them through thick and thin.”