Haitian Earthquake Trauma May Strike People in U.S.

While some of these factors can create more stress for people with loved ones in Haiti, there are things they can do to help themselves -- and possibly their loved ones as well.

"If a person can respond to adversity with action, with corrective action…that in some ways [alleviates] the situation, that's hugely protective for peoples' mental health," said Raison.

Community can help as well.

"It's important in these kinds of times to depend on the support of family members and friends," said Tom Barrett, a psychologist with the University of Denver, who previously served as a senior mental health consultant for the World Health Organization. He said faith-based organizations could also provide some solace.

"It's important that people recognize what services are available and take advantage of those services," he said.

"In general, two of the strongest variables related to recovery from a traumatic event are subsequent life stress and social support," said Cook. "So let's hope that the Haitians currently in the disaster zone and those residing in this country get all the support and information they need to recover from this horrible event."

Doctors said most people will not need professional help to move past the tragedy, but a fair number might.

"My guess is that, all other things equal, there would not typically be long-lasting effects of the disaster on Haitians currently residing in U.S.," said Cook. "That said, there are always qualifiers and thus, it might depend on the level of devastation."

Risks for Good Samaritans

Past disaster relief efforts have brought some attention to the dangers faced by workers who seek to help victims, but the psychological trauma may be sometimes overlooked.

"It's important that the aid organizations pay attention to the psychological well-being of people providing assistance here as well," said Barrett, noting that aid workers exposed to the aftermath of a disaster may face psychological trauma themselves.

Of course, any trauma suffered by someone in the United States is likely to be less stressful than what is experienced by someone in Haiti.

"The more fully you experience something traumatic, the more likely you are to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards," said Raison. "The closer it is to your own skin, the more likely you are to have troubles."

"In a serious disaster like this, physical consequences are of the utmost importance right now," said Barrett. "But it's also important in the long run to look at the psychosocial impact of these situations."

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