New Study Reveals Puerto Rican Students Show PTSD Symptoms Post-Hurricane Maria


The impact of Hurricane Maria continues to be felt in Puerto Rico. The powerful storm, which struck the island as a Category 4 hurricane, is linked to thousands of schoolchildren developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in Puerto Rico, a new study found.

The recent study, conducted by the Puerto Rico Department of Education in partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina, shows that 7.2% of the students — approximately 1 in 14 — reported “clinically significant” symptoms of PTSD. Girls showed greater signs of PTSD than boys.

Researchers surveyed 96,108 public school students five to nine months after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island. The cohort included children in third through 12th grades from various regions of the island, according to the study published Friday in the JAMA Network Open.

The data will be used to target areas with the greatest need for mental health services, the study notes.

Maria claimed the lives of an estimated 2,975 Puerto Ricans, and in the days and months following the storm survivors struggled to access basic necessities like clean water and food. Many remained without electricity nearly a year after.

The conditions have left a lasting impact on students. Nearly 46% reported their home was damaged, and over 32% experienced shortages of food and water. Roughly 58% said they had a friend or family member leave the island. HipLatina reported the US Census data revealing 130,000 people fled Puerto Rico after Maria.

Rosaura Orengo-Aguayo, study lead and a clinical psychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the findings showed the widespread and extensive nature of the devastation.

“That just speaks to how big Maria was, how destructive Maria was island-wide,” Orengo-Aguayo said. “And it didn’t matter what your income was or your location was on the island — you were affected.”

Though the level of PTSD symptoms reported in the study was lower than what was expected, she said, some studies propose up to one-third of children will develop chronic symptoms after surviving a natural disaster, according to the authors.

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