Mental Health in Haiti
On January 12, 2010, large scale earthquake occurred, affecting the island of Hispaniola and most severely affecting the small country of Haiti. Five years after this catastrophe, many people in this country still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

Earthquake Consequences on Mental Health in Haiti

As a result of the earthquake, over 90.5 percent of Haitians had relatives that either died or were seriously injured and 93 percent saw dead bodies. Moreover, 24.6 percent of the earthquake survivors developed PTSD symptoms and 28.3 percent developed major depressive disorder (MDD) symptoms. That accounts for more than half the population suffering from mental illness post-quake.

It is not surprising that so many people were traumatized by the event, as the quake left more than two million affected, 222,750 killed, 80,000 bodies missing, 188,383 houses destroyed or damaged and 1.5 million displaced. Before the earthquake, the mental health system in Haiti was almost non-existent mostly due to stigma.

Problems in Resolving the Issue

The good news is that the earthquake united Haitians to put some focus on mental health, still not nearly enough, but just enough to get the ball rolling. However, due to the overwhelming need for mental health services and very limited resources, most Haitians are not getting the psychiatric help they need. Now that mental health issues are more widespread, there is a stronger push for the government to invest more in training professionals and increase resources for mental health in Haiti.

One of the issues around Haitians not receiving mental health is religion. Mental health issues tend to be attributed to supernatural forces, where three out of four Haitians will see an herbalist or Vodou priests for treatment instead of seeking clinical services. This is due to both cultural beliefs and inadequate resources for mental health. Clinical practice in Haiti must include mental health treatment intersected with Vodou beliefs to effectively care for patients of the country.

Center for Addiction and Mental Health

Out of more than 90 agencies that offered outreach to Haiti, only three offered psychiatric care. Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Office of Transformative Global Health in Canada is one of those agencies. The organization collaborates with 40 religious healers of Haiti to provide cognitive behavioral therapy in an effective way that is in conjunction with cultural beliefs.

The adoption of task-shifting, or dedicating low-cost mental health workers such as community health workers (CHWs) who operate at the community and clinic levels to supplement integrated care, will help with efforts to decentralize mental health care. These improvements are being made in Haiti, however, there is still a long way to go. More investment in the health care system is needed to implement adequate mental health treatment for those still suffering from the trauma of the quake, and more generally, mental health treatment is needed for all.

In improving services for mental health in Haiti, poverty can also be reduced. Implementing adequate treatment can have far-reaching effects, as poor mental health is often the root cause of other health conditions, and it can inhibit people from participating in social and economic development.

Although not enough outreach to Haiti involved mental health services, mental health in Haiti is improving. Through the integration of community services between psychotherapy and religious or cultural practices, agencies like CAMH are facilitating change in the country. Reducing those inhibited by mental disorders also creates more contributors to the community and less burden placed on society due to mental disability. However, more funding is needing in the mental health practice to reduce illness and poverty.

– Anna Power

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