PBS NewsHour recently interviewed Father Eddy Eustache, a priest and psychologist who serves as director of mental health and psychosocial services for Zanmi Lasante, PIH's sister organization in Haiti. Below is an excerpt from the interview. Read the full piece.
What are the most common mental health challenges you are seeing in Haiti at this point?
Almost four months after the earthquake we are seeing people having various kinds of emotional distress responses. These include difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, somatic complaints, and significant sadness, worry and anxiety. Some of these can be seen as normal reactions to a highly abnormal situation. However, the level of distress for many is severe. We also see people who have developed psychotic reactions, and other more acute mental health problems, since the earthquake.
One major challenge is a general lack of services in Haiti to address significant mental health problems. Haiti had few mental health professionals, and limited organized mental health services prior to the earthquake. There was not a clear understanding of the prevalence of mental health problems in Haiti prior to the earthquake, but we can expect that the mental health dimensions of the earthquake, overlaid on the pre-existing issue of poverty, will have significant ramifications for mental health. Our hope is to further develop the services needed to assist with such problems, in a culturally appropriate way, for the long-term.
How are mental health workers trying to address the needs?
Interventions are needed that respect people's capacity to recover from such an event, that do not pathologize normative responses to such a terrible circumstance, that do not risk harm to individuals, that have some evidence for their efficacy, and that are appropriate to the Haitian context.
At Zanmi Lasante [Partners in Health] we have expanded our team to 17 psychologists from three prior to the earthquake, and to more than 50 staff focused exclusively on mental health and psychosocial services. We have been working ... to provide communal opportunities for mourning, to develop community-based supportive interventions in collaboration with schools and churches, and we have expanded basic clinical services.
This has included training of doctors and nurses in management of acute mental health problems, and planning for expansion of the system of care to include community health workers attuned to mental health, and development of effective referral networks to providers.