Living through natural disasters is just one of the reasons that Puerto Ricans have a higher risk of experiencing depression.

Depression affects roughly 280 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020 alone, roughly 8.4% of adults — or approximately 21 million people — in the United States reported experiencing symptoms of depression.

Although depression can affect anyone from any background, some communities are more likely to experience mental health conditions like depression. Puerto Ricans, both in Puerto Rico and the United States, have higher rates of depression than the general U.S. population.

We’ll explore what the research says about depression in Puerto Ricans, including where to get assistance as a Puerto Rican and how to support ongoing recovery efforts.

Research exploring depression in Puerto Ricans is somewhat limited, especially for people actually living in Puerto Rico. But there have been a few studies published on the subject over the last few years.

One large study from 2019 on the depression rate in Puerto Rico compared the rates of psychiatric disorders between Puerto Ricans and the general U.S. population.

Results of the study — which included 3,062 Puerto Ricans living on the island — found that people living in Puerto Rico had roughly 27% higher rates of major depressive disorder (MDD) than the U.S. population (9.7% versus 7.6%).

Plus, the 419 Puerto Ricans living in the United States that were included in the study also had higher rates of MDD than the U.S. population — roughly 9.6%.

Another study from the same year explored the mental health impact of Hurricane Maria on over 96,000 Puerto Rican youths living in Puerto Rico.

According to the study results, roughly 2.5% of Puerto Rican youths experienced symptoms of depression after Hurricane Maria. Girls appeared to be more affected by these symptoms than boys, with around 2.7% of girls reporting symptoms versus only 2.3% of boys.

Depression in Puerto Ricans living in the United States

Some research also suggests that Puerto Ricans living in the United States have higher rates of depression.

In a 2018 study, researchers compared depression rates among different racial and ethnic groups who participated in Medicare Advantage plans.

Study results showed that Puerto Ricans ages 65 and older were 1.46 times more likely to screen positive for depression than non-Hispanic white adults within the same age range.

Research from 2020 explored the potential impact of depression on pregnancy outcomes in over 1,260 Puerto Rican women in Western Massachusetts. According to the researchers, at any point in their pregnancy, roughly 35% of Puerto Rican women in the study had probable minor depression and 25% had probable major depression.

Depression is a complex illness that’s affected by a wide variety of factors — from genetics to environment — and so much more.

Puerto Ricans may experience several stressors that can increase their risk of developing depression.

For example, one 2018 study explored some of the potential cultural stressors associated with depression in Latino and Latina adolescents.

According to the study, some of these stressors included things like discrimination, family conflicts, acculturative and bicultural stress, and immigration stress — the last of which is a significant source of trauma in Latino youth.

Other research found a similar relationship between perceived discrimination and depression in older Puerto Rican adults.

Other factors that can all have a significant effect on the mental health of Puerto Rican people include:

Millions of Puerto Ricans on the island lost their homes, jobs, and livelihoods during Hurricane Maria in 2017.

In fact, according to statistics from the United States Census Bureau, the poverty rate of Puerto Rico in 2018 was roughly 43% — more than double that of Mississippi, which had the highest U.S. poverty rate in 2018 at 19.7%.

Between billions of dollars in damages to the infrastructure of the island and the devastating loss of life, Puerto Rico still needs support during their recovery.

If you’re interested in helping support recovery initiatives in Puerto Rico, here are a few organizations to consider checking out:

  • PRxPR, which sends 100% of the donations they receive to the most critically affected communities in Puerto Rico
  • Together Puerto Rico, which distributes equipment for disaster relief and helps connect Puerto Ricans to resources
  • Foundation for Puerto Rico, which works closely with community partners to support economic development
  • Hispanic Federation, which empowers Hispanic communities and families through different initiatives

Whether you’re a Puerto Rican living on the island or the mainland, there are programs available to help with everything from housing and food to mental health services and more.

Here are a few organizations you can reach out to if you want to learn more:

  • health insurance resources for Puerto Ricans
  • financial assistance resources for Puerto Rican families
  • mental health resources for Puerto Ricans on Medicaid or CHIP
  • mental health resources for those living on the mainland
  • mental health services and resources in Puerto Rico
  • national helplines in Puerto Rico

Some resources listed above are only available to Puerto Ricans living on the island, while others are only available to those living in the United States. If you’re not sure which resources are available to you, consider reaching out to your local social services office for more information.

Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico and the United States appear to have higher rates of depression than the general population, according to research.

One of the reasons for this is that many Puerto Ricans experience increased mental health stressors — including racism and discrimination, migration and immigration stress, and other cultural, social, and economic factors.

If you or someone you love has been experiencing the symptoms of depression, consider reaching out to one of the organizations listed above for more resources and support.