By Jennifer Browning
Students from Emory University have been working with Project Medishare staff in Haiti’s Central Plateau this summer trying to understand how mental health is understood in rural Haiti. The students hope that this is the first of many trips to work toward improving psychosocial services in the Central Plateau.
“This summer is the first of hopefully many steps,” Bonnie Fullard said. “Right now we are trying to lay the groundwork for some type of psychosocial support through Project Medishare. We are trying to understand the needs the way mental health is understood and discussed in rural Haiti and the resources that are already in place.”
Fullard who is a second year Masters in Public Health (MPH) student also working toward her doctorate in anthropology is spearheading the focus group discussions on the project while working training the research assistants.
“We are working at mapping these current local resources available, but at the same time we are using resources used in the U.S. and sort of adapting them here,” Fullard said.
Hunter Keys, a first year nursing student at Emory, said one of the major challenges the research group faces is the language. While the group has been taking Creole lessons at the university to prepare them for this project, there is still an issue about how the language translates in regards to mental health.
“I think one of the challenges is getting a sense of the language and an understanding of the language barriers,” Keys said. “We are really trying to get an understanding of the local language and how mental health is expressed here.”
To assist them with this, the research group found four English/French translators who also are serving as research assistants to help them understand the true understanding of mental health in the rural area.
“One of the examples is the concept of emotions, for instance, a word that we use to describe as emotions for example is the French word, sentiment, is feelings,” Keys said, “but we have been told that in Creole sentiment is reserved for amorous relationships, so sitting around in a group talking about sentiment might conjure up the wrong images. “
Keys said that even the Creole word for mental health doesn’t necessarily translate.
“Even the translation for mental health in Creole, santé mentale doesn’t necessarily translate among rural Haitians. Maladie mentale –a mental illness is immediately thought of as being on the extreme end of mental illness and we are trying to take a more global approach to a more encompassing view of mental illness.”
Fullard agreed with Hunter in that in rural Haiti there is not an actual term for mental health.
“In that sense it is something that is not really talked about,” Fullard said. “When it is talked about it is a really stigmatized topic where people here immediately describe it as “fou” or “crazy” so that it is hard to talk about the things we want to get to, which are the more mild to moderate disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).”