Sherri – Blog 3 – An Introduction to Mental Health

On one of my first days in my feeding centre I met Joseph. At 11 years old Joseph looked 7 at most. Joseph’s family includes 11 children; they have been living in one of the tent cities of Carrefour after the earthquake. Joseph and his 2 younger siblings were referred to the MSF Inpatient feeding centre (ITFC) for severe malnutrition complicated by illness. At the feeding centre we have successfully treated the 2 youngest children’s illnesses and they have gained enough weight on the therapeutic food MSF uses to be discharged home to their family. Unlike his brothers, Joseph has not thrived under the combination of therapeutic food and medical treatment. Instead, he became delusional and violent post earthquake, so traumatized by what he witnessed he now hears and sees things that aren’t there and lashes out at times towards others and himself. What broke my heart was his explanation as to why; Joseph believes he is already deceased, that he died in the earthquake. To me it seems as though he believes his spirit is already dead and he is simply letting his body catch up by refusing all treatment and food.

At an ITFC we are well equipped to handle the medical complications that come with malnutrition, Joseph’s case has presented us with special challenges. A very large part of the MSF response to the disaster in Haiti has been mental health, in my project we have psychologists who we work with. They however, have not been able to make progress with Joseph and our next step was to refer Joseph to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Not as easy as it sounds, the psychiatrist is based 1.5 hours by car from us and with tightened security regulations in an already difficult context, it took 1 week to finally be able to arrange safe transportation. The day we went traffic was terrible and by the time we made it there was only 30 minutes left before we had to turn around and head home, so as to arrive before curfew. When we arrived I was so nervous, here we were with a child who rarely interacted with anyone and we had such a small window for the MSF psychiatrist to get a sense of him and put a plan in action. Imagine my relief when Joseph began talking and kept on going for the next half an hour. I left that day feeling hopeful, we had a plan, it had taken almost 2 weeks to put together but we had done it. Now we wait and see…

When Maslow was developing his hierarchy of human needs he made physiological needs the base of his pyramid. My experience thus far in Haiti has shown that safety and love can supersede physiological needs in the life of a child in crisis.

11 Responses to “Sherri – Blog 3 – An Introduction to Mental Health”

  1. Katja Biesanz Says:

    Victor Frankel, a psychologist who survived concentration camps, found that meaning was even more important than quantity of food in helping people to survive.

  2. Katja Biesanz Says:

    I am a therapist who specializes in trauma. I do EMDR, which helps with the neurological glitches of trauma. I draw on 35 years of teaching movement to diverse ages and populations on helping people release embodied trauma. In movement, many clients report that they feel that they have returned to their body — that some part had gone missing, and is now back.
    I wonder if I could be of any use to you all there if I could get away for a couple weeks? I downloaded a Haitian application, and my considerable Spanish and smattering of French make it pretty comprehensible. I also lived in 3rd world countries such as Paraguay as a child (Dad worked UN), and am good at communicating without common language.
    I would be happy to train anyone in a few simple things that I have found to be useful to trauma survivors – things you would not need to be a therapist to use.

  3. Denise Says:

    Hello, while I was reading this text, I was wondering if MSF needs specialised educators to take in charge all of those people who need special assistence…I would be very motivated to help, if it’s needed…

  4. Joelle Depeyrot Says:

    Are you the Sherri I met almost 2 years ago in a shuttle going from JFK to downtown NY? I am Joelle- MHO who went to Boguila, CAR for a year… wondering if it is you.
    You post is amazing. I connect/relate to it. I very much agree with your comment regarding need for love and safety. I applaud you for your service, comments and reflection. And I send you prayers and love to keep doing the work.

  5. Susan Jacobson PMHNP Says:

    Keep on blogging about mental health. This is very important!

  6. Devorah Tarrow Says:

    Sherri, I’m very moved by your blog. You are doing such good work, and I hope you’re encouraged and keep it up. I have a suggestion for the children because I’m a teacher based on the philosophy Aesthetic Realism. Ask them what they like–and don’t stop–because I learned a child’s and our deepest desire is to like the world. NO MATTER WHAT! It may be food, but it can be anything. I’ve seen such joy come from encouraging a person to do all they can to value and like what can be liked, even at a terrible time. Keep up the good work. Devorah

  7. MARIZA Says:


  8. Katy S Says:

    My hope is to become a mental health professional (I already gained another humanities degree). Ultimately my aim is to work with MSF. Your blog is intriguing and I’d love to read more. It’s neither ‘encouraging’ or ‘disheartening’, it just moves me to want to be able to offer help where it is needed most.
    I wish you and Joseph all the best in overcoming the challenges.

  9. Massage Sydney Says:

    I love the last thing you say, “safety and love can supersede physiological needs in the life of a child in crisis.” It’s true that love conquers all… at least some of the time.

    Although the Haiti disaster is heart breaking, let’s hope that the attention it has brought them from the worldwide community will lead to some significant positive outcomes for the long term.

  10. William Raskol Says:

    You guys are doing are stellar job. Keep it up.

  11. cornelia wicki Says:

    Hi to all of you- I am currently in the application process for mentla health work with MSF and wanted to hear what it was like for those of you on the ground. Not sure if this blog is still active since 2010 is the last note…..