Haiti: Latency in PTSD

In Haiti, Time reporter Jeffrey Kluger writes about latency in emotional response. Haitian-born psychologist, Marie Guerda Nicholas says that most people function remarkably well in the midst of a crisis. It’s only when the shaking or flooding stops that PTSD begins to appear. The psychological impact doesn’t occur until several months later. “When things get quiet, you start to feel the impact and the sadness of the images you witnessed.” That often takes the brain by surprise. The brain processes fear in a lasting way and once lessons about danger are learned, they’re very hard to unlearn.

The teams of psychologists being sent to Haiti (as is true of other cases I have read) are only there to perform psychological triage. They are there to assess basic needs, not to dispense actual aid. While treatment is readily available and effective in the developed world, Haitians have to rely on “lakou,” the extended web of friends and neighborhood that forms a critical part of Haitian culture.

Perhaps an effective method of dispensing aid involves training and catalyzing leaders of local communities to recognize and treat the local constituency. Simplified versions of cognitive therapy (reframing the experience as something terrible but survivable) and behavioral therapy (gradual exposure to the memories and images the person is trying to avoid in order to strip them of their power) could be implemented through psychological response kits.

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