Best of Both Worlds Campaign Highlights Bridge Between Mental Health in Haiti and Vodou

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Photo By: Michael-Jane Levitan

BY SARA MILLER 

The Republic of Haiti. A Caribbean country of ten million people who share the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Known for their unique culture which includes French, African, Spanish and indigenous Taino traditions, the nation made headlines worldwide on January 12th, 2010 when a devastating earthquake caused major damage in Jacmel, Port-au-Prince and other nearby regions. Registering 7.0 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake was followed by several more powerful aftershocks which caused many commercial, residential and government buildings to be destroyed. With over three million residents affected and hundreds of thousands losing their lives, the country has yet to recover even in the present time, from the extreme poverty, weakened government and civil violence the earthquake left in its path.  

However, as most physical scars fade and heal over time, the emotional scars from the catastrophe are still fresh, with many Haitian citizens still experiencing the psychological trauma. Due to the trauma that the earthquake caused, there is a significant strain on mental health needs and resources. Currently, there are only 27 psychiatrists, 194 psychologists, 3 psychiatric nurses and 1 neurologist to serve the population of ten million. Add in the factor of cost, transportation and stigma, many Haitians have learned to cope with their mental illness and health problems through the use of traditional medicine and religious healers such as a Vodou, Catholic and Protestant priests. The population for Vodou priests alone is around 60,000.

“There is a lot of stigma associated with mental illness. Many seldom go to a mental health facility unless it is absolutely essential,” said Mr. Akwatu Khenti, Principal Investigator and Director of Office of Transformative Global Health at CAMH.

“They often believe it is a spiritual problem rather than a mental problem and that is a very common aspect in Caribbean culture not just Haitian.” For the past two years, the Office of Transformative Global Health at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health has partnered up with Voudou priests to better equip them with the mental health knowledge to help Haitian citizens. In partnership with the Commission Nationale de Lutte Contre la Drogue (CONALD), the Mars and Kline Psychiatric Centre as well as numerous spiritual leaders, the project introduces integrate cognitive behavioral therapy, an evidence-based psychological

method used to for those with mental health problems.

“CBT is a treatment we teach people to recognize their errors in thinking that leads them to experience low mood or anxiety,” said Dr. Christine Courbasson, clinical psychologist & CBT advisor to the project.

“The goal is to help the client learn and use skills and practice them long after the therapy finished.”

The project has three phases and is currently entering the last phase:

Part 1: Laying the groundwork through relationship building

Part 2: Information sharing and cultural adaptation process

Part 3: Using creative arts to train Haitian spiritual leaders on therapy for “crooked” thoughts.

To help continued support and sustainment of the program when it commences, the OTGH and its partners have announced the Best of Both Worlds, a crowd funding campaign which all proceeds raised will be used to create an educational film. The set goal of the campaign is to raise $25,000. By using elements of storytelling, which plays a substantial role in the Vodou community, the film will integrate lessons on mental health that will not only help Vodou priests but can also can be used to raise public awareness, improve access and build overall knowledge of mental health in the country. Attached also to the film will be a set of questions that viewers can use to spark discussion.

On July 28th, 2016 there will be a two-part event that will feature keynote speaker Widner Dumay, a Vodou priest from Haiti who will discuss the connection Vodou has to mental health issues as well as its role in the community. The event will be located at the George Ignatieff Theatre at 15 Devonshire Pl, Toronto, ON, from 2-5 pm. Later on in the evening, guests can come down to the Lula Lounge located at 1585 Dundas St West to join in the celebration of real Haitian culture including: Haitian food, a traditional Vodou ceremony, raffles, live music and more.

Tickets for each event are $25 and $50 however; there is a special deal that allows guests to gain access to both events for $65!

To donate to this important and wonderful cause, visit https://igg.me/at/bestofbothworlds. For more information on the Best of Both Worlds campaign and how you can support the project, please contact bestofbothworlds@camh.ca.

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