In the Haitian culture, depression is viewed as a taboo topic. Some believe depression is made up or an exaggeration of negative feelings. Many think that "Haitians aren't depressed" or "depression is not a Haitian problem."
Depression and Stigma in The Haitian Culture
Depression is by definition associated with social dysfunction and major personal suffering, and globally linked to precarious socio-political and economic conditions.
In Haiti, there is a distinction between "depression" to mean discouragement and "mental depression" as understood by Western psychiatry. Depression places a heavy psychological burden on the patient's caregivers and the patient himself, and can be associated with shame in the face of community support, due to the stigma surrounding it. When an individual experiences repeated psychotic episodes and their functioning is disrupted, they can be characterized as insane and considered to be definitely dysfunctional. His cognitive ability and judgment may never be reliable again, even after a long period of remission.
The Use of the Term "Moun Fou" in The Haitian Community
The term "Moun Fou" in Haitian context is a ready-made expression, used wrongly and through, or even a lack of language. This is due to the level of education of the population and the absence of a mental health policy in the country. In Haitian culture, an individual with an episode of any neurological disorder (depression, anxiety, or addiction to psychoactive substances) is considered insane. On the other hand, many Haitians qualify as "Moun Fou" often by extension, any person having thought or acted clumsily, without the term having anything to do with a pathology. It is important to understand the context of the term "Moun Fou" in Haitian society.
Postpartum Depression in Haitian Women
A couple of years ago, I was curious about postpartum depression in Haitians so I asked someone who works with pregnant women through the non-profit organization Midwives For Haiti.
Q: Can you tell me about the prevalence of depression in Haitian women during pregnancy and post partum?
A: "It is not in our screening process at the pre-postnatal screenings in Haiti- largely because we have no one to refer them to to get help and medications are not available or difficult to get for treatment. And we have no research about this.
Personally, my guess is that it is a huge problem because mothers have so little, have to work so hard to just have food and water for themselves, are worried all the time about their children dying, have already lost children, etc.
We are about to do the class on PP depression/anxiety and will ask the students what they know about it. We know of Haitian women who are depressed because of their behavior. Recently a midwife had a baby with cleft palate that died about a week later of aspiration and she just laid on her bed for months. Finally went back to work after 3 months but not because she was ready."
The Importance of Mental Health Across The Island of Haiti
Nowadays, there is an increase in mental disorders in Haiti. The country lacks a planned mental health policy according to the needs of the population, especially at a troubling time when poverty, instability and insecurity have reached their peak. Moreover, the budget allocated to mental health represents less than 1% of the overall budget reserved for public health.
Mental health is extremely neglected and ignored by the authorities when it should be the most representative in the fight to protect citizens and help them maintain full mental well-being, because according to WHO forecasts, neurological disorders are the second leading cause of death in the world.
A friend of The Real Haiti Marie Valsaint, Founder and CEO of Haitians Thrive, provided us with a Development and Validation of a Haitian Creole Screening Instrument for Depression by Andrew Rasmussen, et. al. This document is useful to those trying to identify, diagnosis and treat mental illness, especially depression in the Haitian community.
Do you have any research on depression in the Haitian culture that you'd love to share? Please let us know and we'd love to support you and our community.