House Committee discusses mental health impact of earthquakes
By John McPhaul
The Community Impact Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by the Deputy House Speaker Lydia Méndez Silva, held a public hearing Wednesday on House Resolution 220 with the purpose of determining the impact generated by earthquakes on mental health in schools in the southern region of Puerto Rico.
The House Committee received input from the Department of Education (DE), the Psychology Association, the Social Work Professionals Association, Ciencia Puerto Rico and the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration.
Dr. Gisela Ríos, director of the DE’s Psychology Program, noted that after the magnitude 6.4 earthquake on Jan. 7, 2020, more than 2,000 people
showed severe symptoms associated with fear, stress, anxiety and shock.
Ríos said it is imperative to assist students consistently on school campuses.
“After studies and surveys, we have noticed that students feel more comfortable with physical interaction, which in turn creates a relief in the emotional burden they have experienced after these events,” she said. “In a survey conducted by the Department among school communities located in the municipalities of Guánica, Yauco, Guayanilla, Peñuelas and Ponce the common factor was a higher incidence of conditions associated with generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic attacks.
Ríos highlighted that the DE had a total of 33 psychologists from the Regional Educational Offices of Caguas, Ponce and Mayagüez who provided their services from Jan. 16 to Jan. 31, 2020 to a total of 845 people in psychological first aid who were in shelters and affected communities.