Haiti 2010 Earthquake Response

Haiti’s rescuers stricken by illness and trauma

Those who volunteered to respond to the Haiti earthquake deserve thanks, not only for donating their time, but for the risks they endured.  According to the CDC, seven emergency responders have returned from Haiti with malaria, a disease with long-term effects. But, psychological trauma appears to be more common.  A field update posted at InsideNGO describes the impacts on the staff of one NGO working in Haiti.

Staff are frequently requesting mental health services following mandatory debriefing session.  A majority of workers are also reporting physical symptoms of stress including significant chest pains, nightmares, flashbacks, and disassociation.
The Miami Herald mistakenly suggests that firefighters and other trained rescue workers are less prone to the trauma of catastrophes. Repetitive exposures to trauma are more stressful than a single incident.  Effects range from minor to full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and the full impact may not become apparent until the crisis has ended.
“I had to spend a lot of time alone. It was a week before I could be in a full social setting. I would go to the ocean and walk on the beach. Exercise. Yoga. Time with my family. Anything low-key.” – Carmen Maria Romero, physical therapist
Reporters, as well as doctors, nurses and social workers, may suffer trauma from their experiences in Haiti. The Institute for Disaster Mental Health has a list of links to disaster counseling resources.

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