Research Reserve Adds Emotional Health Outreach after Hurricane

The Takeaway: Local Hurricane Maria survivors can receive expert help for their trauma and stress, because the Jobos Bay Research Reserve connects them with appropriate resources.

As Hurricane Maria bore down, staff members of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve stepped up to aid communities in crisis, all while experiencing terrifying storm conditions and a perilous, island-wide aftermath. As recovery began, staff members were concerned about their lingering mental stress and that of their neighbors in Salinas and Guayama. To help, they set up monthly workshops, led by a retired social worker, that encourage participants to share stories and learn practices for emotional resilience. In addition, for 18 months the research reserve provided weekly facility space to survivors requesting more intensive help from local psychologists.

The weekly visits from psychologists were provided through a partnership with the University of Puerto Rico’s Psychology Studies and Services University Center. Research reserve staffers respected confidentiality, staying out of all interactions between psychologists and people seeking individual services. The retired social worker, who is also a reserve volunteer, continues regular workshops that have evolved to help participants learn healthy behaviors that counter day-to-day stressors.

As natural disasters become more frequent and severe, public health professionals are seeing a rise in stress among survivors. At the 2019 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, University of Miami researchers presented evidence showing that Harvey, Irma, and Maria hurricane survivors experience elevated, “storm-associated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.” (2019)

Partners: Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, University of Puerto Rico Psychology Studies and Services University Center