More than 150,000 people have died in the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti. There is fear, anxiety, depression and tremendous psychological pain. The uncertainty about the future will intensify these emotional reactions. Most likely the initial help by mental health professionals will be to assist the stunned people in getting food, shelter and information about the whereabouts of their loved ones. Psychiatrists may write prescriptions for general medical conditions or even assist in emergency surgery. There also is a need for the authorities to provide “risk communication” of truthful information. Death notifications need to be done skillfully. Mental health professionals can be helpful in training for these tasks. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, people may deny the reality of what has happened. There will be grieving by survivors for the many people who perished. Grief after unexpected violent death especially when it includes children can be prolonged and complicated with additional emotional problems including alcohol and drug problems. At least half of the survivors will have some symptoms of PTSD. There are various forms of mental health interventions which may be helpful. The psychological effect of such a disaster can also impact on the secondary victims which include all rescue and medical personnel as well as members of the media. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals will play an important role in helping the people of Haiti to recover from this ordeal.
At the present time if a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq or Afghanistan is physically and/or psychologically injured and subsequently commits suicide, his or her family will not receive a Presidential letter of condolence as will soldiers who die by other means. This is unfair and hurtful to the families with loved ones who have volunteered to serve their country and die as a result of their service. A spokesperson for President Obama said that the policy in regard to who should receive a letter of condolence is currently undergoing a review. This issue is discussed and it is suggested that letters be written to the President, Secretary of Defense and members of Congressas well as professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association which could influence these people, urging that the above policy be changed so Presidential letters of condolence will also be written to soldiers who have died from suicide.