Mental Health in Haiti: Beyond Disaster Relief

Olivia Tiberi, Eds.: The Journal of Global Health, (2016)

Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. The disaster uncovered the realities of a non-existent mental health care system with only ten psychiatrists nationwide. Attempts were made to assess the increased prevalence of mental illness, likely due to the trauma to which many were exposed. Several interventions were carried out with aims to integrate mental health into primary health care services. The interplay between socio-cultural beliefs and health (both mental and physical) in Haiti has been widely commented upon by both foreign aid and local caregivers. Observations frequently highlight barriers to the willingness of patients to seek care and to their acceptance of biomedicine over traditional Vodou beliefs. The perception of Haitian beliefs as barriers to the availability and acceptance of mental health care has intensified the difficulty in providing effective recommendations and interventions both before and after the earthquake. Argued in this review is the importance of considering the interactions between socio-cultural beliefs and mental health when developing models for the prevention, screening, classification and management of mental illness in Haiti. These interactions, especially relevant in mental health care and post-disaster contexts, need to be acknowledged in any healthcare setting. The successes and failures of Haiti’s situation provide an example for global consideration.


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