On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake. The earthquake registered 7.0 on the Richter Scale and was followed by numerous powerful aftershocks. The epicenter of the earthquake was close to the most densely populated areas of Haiti, including the capital and largest city, Port-Au-Prince. It is estimated that around 200,000 people lost their lives and thousands more have been injured. In addition, approximately 250,000 buildings have collapsed, the vast majority being residential, and many people have been rendered homeless overnight. Many hospitals and schools collapsed in the earthquake. Governmental and commercial buildings and infrastructure were also widely damaged or destroyed. Haiti suffered from lack of infrastructure and poverty even prior to this catastrophe, and now faces the challenge of rebuilding in the wake of great loss and trauma.
Governments, NGOs and international organizations such as the World Health Organization are contributing to an ongoing humanitarian response to the earthquake. This response includes the deployment of medical teams and humanitarian workers to Haiti to assist in addressing the manifold health needs faced by the Haitian population. This report is intended to contribute to these efforts by summarizing what is known about Haitian mental health and mental health services. This includes a review of factors such as basic epidemiology, common beliefs about mental illness, explanatory models, idioms of distress, help-seeking behavior, configuration of mental health services and the relationship between religion and mental health. We hope this review can inform short-, medium- and long-term efforts to improve mental health care and mental health services in Haiti by outlining social and cultural issues relevant to Haitian mental health care.
Given the urgency of this report, we searched only the main medical and psychological databases for the relevant information. We relied on Medline supplemented by Google Scholar to retrieve key books and grey literature relevant to Haiti. Search terms included the following, with the appropriate Boolean operators: Haiti*; mental health; mental illness; psychiatry; psychology. The multidisciplinary team working on this paper includes Haitian mental health practitioners and other familiar with the region who identified additional resources. Finally, we conducted manual searches of the reference lists of key papers and books for articles relevant to Haitian mental health. We included both English- and French-language literature. The search was conducted during the month of January 2010.