Although the hit of Hurricane María is considered one of the most disastrous episodes in the modern history of the country, the emotional balance of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 could be even worse for the population.
This, judging by the dramatic increase in calls to the PAS Line of the Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA), which offers support and psychological counseling to thousands of Puerto Ricans in situations of emotional crisis.
As confirmed by the sociologist and administrator of the agency, Suzanne Roig Fuertes, so far this year the program has responded to over 807 thousand requests for help to handle a wide range of traumas and anxiety episodes, far exceeding the trend of previous years .
Of these, 245 thousand calls – almost a third part – correspond to situations related to the Covid-19 pandemic, while another 93,941 have been linked to this year’s earthquakes.
“I understand that COVID, emotionally, is affecting citizens more than Hurricane Maria. Without a doubt, ”Roig Fuertes declared in an interview with La Perla del Sur.
Mass demand for help
To illustrate the magnitude of the demand for emergency counseling services, Roig Fuertes revealed that prior to the pandemic, during the months of January and February, the average number of calls to the PAS Line fluctuated around 40,000 per month.
However, last August the number of calls received exceeded 180 thousand, a figure that is equivalent to 6 thousand per day: a volume that also compares with the monthly average of calls registered three years ago.
“To give you an idea, the day we received the most calls during the Hurricane Maria emergency period, we had about 1,200 calls. In August, with the Covid, the average was five times that amount ”, explained Roig Fuertes.
The unexpected increase has also forced the program to relocate its operations and increase the staff handling aid claims, from approximately six per shift, to more than 30.
It includes clinical psychologists, counselors, and social workers.
“This has forced us to readjust, because the volume has been immense and the situation is complex,” added the ASSMCA administrator.
Uncertainty and fatigue
In Roig Fuertes’ opinion, the uncertain nature of the pandemic has contributed to its effect on the population being more acute than in recent disasters.
“With Covid we are seeing an uncertainty and fear that is constant and that impacts many areas, from health to economic and social, all at the same time,” said Roig Fuertes.
“The reduction of family income, the relationship between work and school, the radical change in lifestyle and distancing from family and friends to prevent contagion are just some of the factors that are impacting people during this crisis” he continued.
Roig Fuertes also pointed to the factor “fatigue” of people, as the health emergency has already extended for six months, without a specific projection of when it could be normalized.
“When the lockdown occurs, the attitude of the people was positive, because everyone understood that it was necessary. Many even saw it initially as a period of rest. But as the weeks went by, people started to get emotionally shocked and in August we were at a peak, “he said.
The sociologist also stated that there is a correlation between the number of calls received and the executive orders issued by the governor to address the pandemic crisis.
“When orders become more flexible and greater opportunities for distraction arise, the number of calls goes down, because people have more alternatives to channel their emotions. With the confinement there are fewer spaces for relief, ”she said.
“We are seeing a situation that deserves to be studied in depth, because I don’t think we have seen something like this in recent years,” he concluded.
People experiencing an emotional crisis linked to the pandemic or any other situation, can communicate confidentially and free of charge to the PAS Line, at 1-800-981-0023.