According to the concept of transformational resilience, this process can go very well only if a community has the psychological capacity to work together in transforming themselves.4 In my experience of providing support to Maria survivors, it would be very difficult to do so without sufficient resources, a network of support, and healthy self-esteem. Many leaders of the programs and non-profit organizations that we collaborate with are focusing on building those key aspects first through community empowerment initiatives. The concept of autogestión (“self-management” in English) has emerged on the island as a more proper term than “resilience” for some mental health clinicians to describe what is needed to succeed in the recovery process post-Maria and post-fiscal crisis.
Empowerment and advocacy efforts are also needed to achieve transformational resilience because most citizens lack key resources and political power to demand their civil rights and access to such resources. In some cases, they also lack a sense of communal self-respect that is key for transformational resilience. Furthermore, the popular definition of resilience can be systemically manipulated into deferring the responsibility of providing resources for recovery onto the same underserved and oppressed communities that have suffered the harshest impacts of both disasters: Maria and the fiscal crisis.
I have witnessed a process in which many Puerto Ricans are uniting to build a sense of communal love for themselves; comradery; strategies of socio-political and economic activism; systems of sustainable access to food and energy, such as solar power and agricultural cooperatives; and social and solidary economic projects. Re-discovering their core values, demanding justice and transforming into self-reliant and sustainable entities, some Puerto Rican communities and organizations have become stronger than ever. The replication of such efforts will be fundamental for Puerto Ricans to maintain and protect their capacity to live decently on the island, amidst a worsening environment of systemic oppression and harsh austerity measures that have forced thousands to leave.
Dr Cabán-Alemán is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Florida International University (FIU), in Miami; and Director of Behavioral Health Services for the FIU Student Health Center. She is also a founding member of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance and an American Psychiatric Association representative to the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.
Dr Cabán-Alemán reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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