Haiti Relief Workers Risk Their Minds, Experts Say

Helping Others Helps Your Mind

"My sister, Lori Moise, is a registered nurse… she went into town yesterday afternoon to find someplace to help. She just loaded up the back of the truck with supplies and went. She cannot sit still when she knows there are so many people that need help," Licia Betor, who runs a shelter for 70 malnourished children in a village called Cazale outside of Port-au-Prince, wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. Betor and her sister have been treating broken bones and crushed internal injuries since the earthquake hit.

Betor said the people in Cazale are quite desperate "because most cannot afford to pay the rising cost of taxi fees to get into port to see if they can even find their families. Some do not even know where to begin looking."

Annie Foster, emergency team leader for Save the Children in Port-au-Prince, said the staff in her area have been coming into work, despite the chaos.

"I can't say we have the full staff back yet. People need to take care of their extremely difficult situations at home, so not everybody shows up every day," said Foster.

Foster had 59 people stationed in Port-au-Prince. So far she's contacted 51 and learned one died during the earthquake.

"The majority of them have lost their homes or their homes are severely damaged. The staff is coming in and trying to work the best they can but they are under a great deal of stress and trauma," said Foster. "Everybody knows at least somebody who is dead."

Foster said Save the Children will stay in touch with the people working in Port-au-Prince and provide a counselor if staff requests one. However, given the organization's experience in other disasters, Foster said it's known that helping others during the crises helps individual relief workers recover as well.

"For many, many staff members -- no matter what country -- the activity of helping people and helping their communities helps assist their own path back to feeling normal again," said Foster.

"So right now all attention and activity is on the emergency response," she said

However, sometimes the inclination to help can weigh severely on rescue teams when faced with a disaster of epic proportions.

What Happens When You Can't Help Everybody

"It's almost like organized chaos. You will arrive at a location -- in this case, it will be Haiti -- you and your team will be given a specific area … a six-block area for example… you locate live victims, and see what you're going to do to get them out," said Greg Gould, who works in search and rescue for the office of fire prevention and control in New York state.

Gould said most search and rescue workers are "type A" personalities who are very driven and focused on their efforts.

During 9/11, Gould remembered workers functioned with intense focus finding people alive or dead, marking the people they see with orange paint and moving on with a rescue dog to find more.

Yet, sometimes the instinct to help an individual threatened his ability to do his job.

"The people who have loved ones are also desperate…They will look for the rescuers to help them find a specific individual. If someone would put a picture of a young child in front of your face and say 'please find my baby,' it's very hard not to react," said Gould.

"You need to, as a rescuer, kind of set that aside and focus on your task," he said.

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