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#257: Haitians and Depression : A personal history


>From my experience, depression, or any other form of mental disorder does not 
exist in most Haitian families. Since there is a stigma attached to mental 
disorders, if someone has been diagnosed, the diagnosis is replaced with 
other explanations by family members. As in cases I've witnessed. 
When one of my brothers was younger, a guidance counselor referred my mother 
to a psychiatrist because he was overactive. My father quickly stifled that 
idea because he feared that it would come back to haunt him later. About two 
years ago that same brother was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, a form of 
manic depression. 
It was a very painful experience for all of us, yet no one really wanted to 
talk about it.  My whole family had to attend a counseling session while he 
was hospitalized and I remember the pain in my mother's voice as she 
recounted the signs which were there all throughout his life.
My brother had graduated from an ivy league college, was working and was 
living on his own. He had to move back home after that. When we were alone, 
my mother would instruct me not to tell people what the problem was. She said 
that he was overworked, had studied too much, needed a girlfriend. All sorts 
of things. She was clearly in denial. Until this very day, not too many 
people are aware of his condition.
I know of a lot of other Haitian families who go through the same thing, so 
it is not uncommon. They just refuse to talk about it. Sometimes, people go 
without the treatment they need because of fear of having some "crazy" 
disease. The most recent explanation I've heard for these illnesses is very 
supernatural. I don't know too much about that.
One thing, I do know is that there is help. One important thing is that the 
person in need of help has to accept the fact that he/she may have a mental 
disorder. They have to acknowledge the fact that they need help or it won't 
do a bit of good. If anyone knows someone in need of help, try to visit a 
Haitian community center. They should be able to direct you to a Haitian 
psychologist. Although this has been very painful for me, even to share, I 
think talking about it helps. If it would help, I could share some more of my 
experiences with depression. Good luck and just know you're not alone.
Peace and Guidance,