Trauma and Mental Illness in the Haitian Community:
Cultural Considerations for Developing a Broad Clinical and Research Agenda
Guerda Nicolas, PhD, Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, School of Education, University of Miami
Dr. Ronald Jean-Jacques, President, Haitian Psychological Association
Massachusetts has the third largest Haitian community in the United States, with an estimated 75,000 Haitian individuals residing in the state. Haitians have been settling in the state since the 1960s and now represent the second largest immigrant group in Boston. As a growing and vibrant community in the state, Haitians have remained relatively invisible to mainstream society. However, as the earthquake of January 12, 2010 has brought to the forefront the dire state of Haiti’s mental health infrastructure, there has been a heightened interest in understanding and addressing the unmet mental health needs of Haitian immigrants both locally and nationally. Yet, well before the devastating tragedy that struck the island on that fateful day, Haitian individuals have endured numerous traumatic experiences—political unrest, violence, and countless natural disasters—that have had a profound impact on their psychological, social and emotional well-being. This conference seeks to bring together health care experts, researchers, educators, clinicians and community advocates whose current work can inform the development of a comprehensive agenda for Haitian mental health in Massachusetts and beyond. It is intended as a forum where participants can actively engage in community-level discussions about the mental health needs of Haitians; and exchange knowledge, information, data and culturally-based practices in an atmosphere of collaboration that can lead to successful clinical, research and policy development initiatives.
Upon completion of this program, conference attendants will be able to:
· Describe the current state of knowledge about Haitian mental health as it exists in the clinical and research literature.
· Recognize the psychosocial impact of historical traumatic stressors, migration patterns and relocation experiences on the adaptation of Haitian immigrants in the U.S.
· Acknowledge the distinct mental health issues that affect the Haitian community.
· Understand the role of culture and cultural belief systems in health-seeking behaviors among Haitian individuals.
· Describe culturally-bound syndromes and somatization as cultural metaphors in the manifestation of mental illness in the Haitian community.
· Define the role of spirituality and the concept of resiliency in the coping behaviors of Haitian individuals.
· Identify culturally-based strategies and interventions that can address the unique mental health needs of Haitian children, youth, adults and families.
· Learn effective approaches to promote, prevent and treat mental illness in the Haitian community.
· Understand the systemic causes of health and mental health disparities and recommend strategies to address them programmatically through policy, research and advocacy.