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A Close Look at Mental Health In Haiti

Island Hope will be hosting a medical clinic in Haiti in January 2019. We are preparing to offer a wide variety of services including dentistry, wound care, glucose monitoring among many others. Apart of Island Hope’s mission is providing holistic health, which includes mental health. We plan to hold a mental health seminar as part of the clinic where we plan on screening individuals who may have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder (PTSD) or at risk of developing the disorder. The focus of the seminar is to increase awareness and improve education about mental health. 

While access to mental healthcare is limited across the Caribbean and the stigmatization halts progress, Haiti continues to experience deep challenges where this is concerned. Surely, there has been some progress, but the series of unfortunate events the island has been subjected to, exacerbates the situation. Haiti has seen one of the worst earthquakes in 2010, where more than 200,000 individuals lost their lives and millions displaced, followed by a serious cholera outbreak, hurricanes; more recently, on October 6, another earthquake in the northern part of the island killed 18. These events seriously impact the mental wellbeing of individuals. A research survey conducted in 2013 on individuals affected by the earthquake (Cerda et al., 2013), found that 90.5% of those surveyed had at least 1 relative or close friend who was injured or dead and 93% saw dead bodies.  Can you imagine the psychological toll that can take on someone, someone already living in a chronically poor state? I recall a friend who is of Haitian descent, here in America, who refused to sleep in his house, because he felt that his people were displaced and reduced to living in tents, he felt he should not be afforded the privilege to sleep in doors. It was a heartbreaking thing to see, yet beautiful. 

It was estimated that a quarter of the population had experienced some symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms manifest differently in children, teens and adults and affect 4 core areas: behavioral, psychological, mood and sleep. Behavioral changes involve hypervigilance, isolation, agitation. Psychological changes include nightmares, flashbacks of the event, and high anxiety. Mood includes feeling guilt, poor sleep, difficulty falling and staying asleep. Recognizing symptoms is the first step in knowing there is a problem and in a country where there is limited access and resources, mental issues tend to go undiagnosed and untreated. 

There are some organizations that are doing good work in Haiti in relation to mental health. Rebati Santѐ Mentale provides access through coordination with Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Dr. Gerard Nicholas who is a psychologist and professor at the University of Miami. They are providing  training to local nurses and mental health workers to identify, screen for, and offer support for the mental health needs of individuals. 

As our organization embarks on this journey to Haiti, we hope that we can help to create some small difference in the lives of those we meet.

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