International Medical Corps has shared Brief Mental Health Guidelines for Assisting Those Affected by the Earthquake in Haiti on this website. These guidelines result from years of International Medical Corp experience in rapid-onset emergencies. They also draw upon Sphere standards and WHO guidelines for Mental Health in Emergencies. They are written for the benefit of first responders working in this acute phase and their fundamental principles should inform all ongoing interactions with affected communities. As community-based primary health services are restored, they should be integrated into them.
All earthquake-affected individuals and communities can be expected to be suffering from psychological stress, shock and grief. The worst affected will be those who have suffered multiple losses, combined with physical exposure to danger and are now without resources. They will have been terrified by the initial quake and continue to suffer acute anxiety with continuing aftershocks. They are likely to be hungry, tired, exhausted, bewildered, numb, angry, despairing, frustrated as well as suffering all the feelings that follow overwhelming loss. The best way to assist in the first instance is by attending to their basic needs through social interventions.
Self-recovery and resilience in the face of disaster are the norm. However a proportion of the population (and some of those involved in the relief effort) will experience acute mental distress; many others will be in the acute stages of grief. This will limit their ability to function. They should have access to psychological first aid from health care providers or relief workers. Psychological first aid is simple, easily taught and involves a practical and compassionate approach. A smaller proportion of the population will be suffering from acute or chronic psychiatric disorders. This is a needy and extremely vulnerable group and requires clinical care. All these groups require access to skilled psychiatric care or the urgent establishment of continuing care that attends to their basic needs, respects their dignity and their human rights.