“With a million people still living in tents, it's easy to see how slowly Haiti is recovering from last year's earthquake,” reports Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY’s Susan Phillips, talking from Haiti. “But less visible is the emotional toll.”
In her weeklong series of reports, Susan follows PIH’s psychosocial and mental health team in Haiti as she investigates the ancient and modern methods Haiti’s people have been using in response to last year’s earthquake.
Treating the Mind in Haiti
Susan was in Cange, Haiti, in mid-January to visit PIH’s headquarters and one of the organization’s flagship hospitals. In that first report, she summarizes the major hurdles facing mental health workers in Haiti as the country begins to really deal with the trauma of the past year. As Susan reports, there were fewer than 10 public-sector psychologists in Haiti before the earthquake.
Haiti Uses Voodoo and Western Psychotherapy to Recover
“Pierre Jean-Bonet lives outside Port-au-Prince with several families. Jean-Bonet is an Houngan, or voodoo priest,” reports Susan. “His priestly name is Ya Cezzy, [YAH-say-ZEE] which translates into English as ‘Real Surprise.’”
“He says since last year's earthquake, more people suffering emotional trauma have come to him for help.”
“In post-earthquake Haiti, there is a push by the government's Health Ministry to modernize and prioritize western-style mental healthcare. The country relies on the NGO Partners In Health to come up with a plan.”
The Slow Road Recovering from Trauma in Haiti
“When the earthquake struck, Shelove Julmiste was at home in Port-au-Prince on the third floor of a six-story building,” reports Susan. “Four days later, she woke up without her left leg.”
“I was crying and crying and crying for days and days," she said through a translator.
A PIH psychologist, Tatiana Theresme, tried to help. But Julmiste says nothing would console her. Tatiana tells her it’s perfectly normal to feel scared after such a devastating trauma – but that the flashbacks and anxiety will lessen with time.
NGO’s Crowd Out Government in Haiti
“The earthquake is not an isolated event,” said Father Eddy Eustache is a Catholic priest, and the director of psycho-social services for Partners in Health in Haiti. “I think trauma belongs to the daily life in Haiti because people have been exposed to so much, and so intense stress.”
Since the earthquake, PIH has newly hired 17 psychologists and 65 social workers in an effort to help relieve some of the mental health care needs facing Haiti’s people.