Haiti Relief Aid Can Sway Risk for Mental Woes

Murray said many who survived Hurricane Katrina were deeply shaken when promises of aid didn't come, or didn't come soon enough. Rather than build false hopes, Murray said it's best to give the most accurate information possible.

Tuma said another common mistake is to rush to deliver medical care and accidentally separate people from their family or friends.

Maintaining Family Bonds and Social Order

When it comes to getting a broken bone or some other health issue addressed, Tuma said it's human nature to start "picking up that person and whisking them off to get medical care," but relief workers need to be aware if the person they're helping has communication with his or her family, and whether a community is dependent on that person for leadership.

"It's a pretty universally documented thin, that connection to friends and family -- to the extent it is -- possible is a very strong influence on future mental health," said Tuma.

As of Tuesday, Betor said missing family and friends are dominating the thoughts of people in her town.

"There are so many that have not heard from their family members. There are so many that will never know what really happened to them," Betor wrote in an e-mail to abcnews.com. "No one has heard of places helping to find family members. They think the best thing to do is send one person into town to check on several different homes of family members. Then that person reports back to the village on the news they have found."

Haiti Earthquake Victims Find Ways to Help Themselves

Five people in Betor's town have been getting calls or text messages from people trapped under the rubble in Port-au-Prince. Each of them asks her to forward the locations to a U.S. military contact to search on the ground. Even if their loved ones aren't found, Betor said every rescue uplifts the spirits of the town.

"They are SO happy when they hear on the radio that another person has been rescued. They cannot believe that they could stay alive that long," she wrote.

Betor says people are sharing food when they have it and coming together to sing and pray. However, her three sons, all born in Haiti, are reacting to the morbid images and destruction around them.

Visions of Dead, Mass Graves

"They began to have bad dreams, they did not want to go to sleep at all and did not want to go in any houses. They were having problems doing their school work," said Betor. "They might be watching a cartoon and then pictures of mass graves were coming up on the TV. We live right above the medical clinic and there were bad injuries coming in. The staff and other talk freely about injuries and people dying."

Betor now made the tough decision to send her three sons to live with family in the United States and spare them from the scenes unfolding in Port-au-Prince.

Indeed, Tuma said that observing mass graves and serious injuries will put people at a higher risk for prolonged mental distress after a disaster. It's only one of the reasons why he is particularly worried about the future of Haiti.

"Having observed mass death and dead bodies, is a serious risk factor," said Tuma, who added that Haiti's recent hurricanes and poor public health before the earthquake also put its population at a higher risk for PTSD and depression.

"The fix here is not dispensing psychiatric medication, it's not sending armies of psychologists and mental health experts into the society," said Tuma.

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