Mental health for Haitians

To The Editor

It has been more than two and a half years since an earthquake devastated the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and its surrounding region, but many in the Haitian-American community still have unmet needs, including in the area of mental health. The earthquake reportedly killed more than 300,000, injured hundreds of thousands more, and destroyed families, homes, and livelihoods, leaving a legacy of emotional and physical trauma.

Today, for many in Haiti, obtaining the basics of life – housing, food, and water – remains an everyday struggle that contributes to mental distress. Haitian-Americans living in this country also face severe stressors, including grief, survivor guilt, and concerns about families left behind.

To address this continuing crisis, SUNY Downstate Medical Center will host a Haitian Mental Health Forum Sunday, Oct. 7 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m., in the Alumni Auditorium, Health Science Education Building, 395 Lenox Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11203. John F. Williams, MD, EdD, MPH, president of SUNY Downstate, will welcome the attendees.

The forum is sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs, the Haitian American Psychiatric Association, the Brooklyn Psychiatric Society, the SUNY Downstate Department of Psychiatry, and Rebati Santé Mentale. This free event is geared towards mental health professionals, members of community organizations, and the general public.

Jean B. Tropnas, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate and one of the event’s organizers, said, “Disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti create new health needs but can also exacerbate unmet needs that were already present. The Haitian Mental Health Forum will look at both these issues, with an emphasis on what we have learned and what remains to be done.”

Dr. Tropnas is also co-founder and past president of the Haitian-American Psychiatric Association. He has visited Haiti three times since the earthquake to assist in relief efforts, and has been instrumental in the mental health outreach by Downstate’s Department of Psychiatry in Brooklyn’s large Haitian-American community.

The Haitian Mental Health Forum will feature interactive panel presentations and discussions focusing on mental health issues in the Haitian-American community both before and after the 2010 earthquake and on behavioral health interventions, services, and resources currently available. A similar forum was held in Miami last year.

Topics will include cultural sensitivity in the delivery of care; manifestations of trauma in children; behavioral health interventions in the community; reliance on folk healers; and a review of the community outreach, educational, and clinical interventions performed by SUNY Downstate staff in the Haitian-American community. Downstate has worked closely with community leaders and arranged for visits to churches and community organizations by psychiatrists, other health professionals, and counselors, providing health screenings and information on legal services. Those who needed follow-up psychiatric services were given referrals or followed up by Downstate personnel. A service grant was obtained to maintain these efforts.

Opening remarks will be provided by Dr. Tropnas; Annelle B. Primm, MD, MPH, deputy medical director and director of the Office of Minority and National Affairs of the American Psychiatric Association; Ramotse Saunders, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Downstate; and Marie-Claude Rigaud, MD, MPH, chairperson of Rebati Santé Mentale. Stephen M. Goldfinger, MD, professor and chair of psychiatry at Downstate, will give closing remarks, as will Dr. Tropnas.

Organizers of the event invite the public to network with mental health care professionals and members of the Haitian-American community to explore ways of optimizing mental health and well-being. The event will also celebrate Haitian culture with entertainment provided by performing artists E-uneek and Michele Voltaire Marcelin.

For more information, call 703-907-8579 or email: [email protected].

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.

Ronald Najman

Director, Communications and Special Projects

SUNY Downstate Medical Center

450 Clarkson Ave., Brooklyn.

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