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Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Archive for February 2010

Earthquake’s Impact on the Haitian Children

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Last time we provided parents with some tips on how to talk to their children about trauma in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti.

This time we wanted to examine how the Haitian children themselves are combating the trauma they’ve experienced. While many of the Haitian children are dealing with their trauma on a day-to-day basis, for some, the trauma could last their entire lives:

“Some children are overreacting; others have blocked it completely from their minds,” said Norah Salnave of the Haitian Association of Psychologists. “It’s not only the trauma, but a lot have lost their parents, brothers and sisters. That’s a tremendous thing for a child to process.”

“For the most part, those children are just glad to be alive,” said Burton Goldstein, a University of Miami psychiatrist at the field hospital. “The consequences of the amputation will come later, when they are dealing with day-to-day life.”

Future Struggles

In a country where possibilities and opportunities are already vastly limited, the January quake has only made these struggles more profound. These children have experienced the loss of family, gruesome injuries, and displacement from their homes and schools. Experts are concerned that the high number of amputees could make future employment very difficult in a country where manual labor represents a predominant portion of the work force.

The Benefit of Basics

It’s extremely easy for anyone who hasn’t been impacted by a natural disaster to lose an appreciation for “the basics.” Furthermore, it’s easy to lose sight of how important the basics — food, shelter, fresh water — are for a child’s psychological development:

Amanda Melville, a UNICEF child protection specialist who is coordinating mental health and psychological support services with the Haitian government, said regular access to food, water, shelter and the family unit is key to a child’s mental health.

“In these kinds of situations, we have to understand that the biggest stress on children is the lack of basic services and normality,” Melville  said. “The sooner we can get these children good, water and shelter, the better.”

Hope Abounds

While the symptoms of post-traumatic stress are clearly evident in many of the child survivors, they haven’t lost sight of those who continue to help and inspired them:

Jonise [Francois], like the little girls lying in either of the hospital beds next to her and the bed directly behind her, wants to become a nurse when she grows up.

Said her mother: “She wants to help people.”

READERS: Does anyone have anything to add? How do psychological support services differ between adults and children?

Written by traumalines

February 4, 2010 at 8:31 pm

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