It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, plunging it into darkness. Today, around 95% of Puerto Rico’s electric grid remains down, and that outage could last for months.
Being without power comes with obvious physical health risks, especially for hospitals and nursing homes, which rely on power for dialysis and oxygen machines, refrigerated insulin medication and more. Being in the dark impairs safety and security, too. But blackouts also take a lasting toll on people’s mental health, experts say. This often-ignored issue is slowly gaining more recognition in disaster response.
Dr. Shao Lin, a professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University at Albany and her research team are studying how power outages impact community health, including mental health. Her 2016 study on the impact of Hurricane Sandy found that impacted areas of New York experienced extended blackouts and disruptions to public transportation and health care. The impact on mental health was substantial, she concluded; there was a significant increase in emergency room visits for substance abuse problems, psychosis, mood disorders and suicides throughout the city. Read more