Stories from the Field – Haiti

From Dr. Pam Ryan, PBB Chair & Co-Founder

I am writing from the Petionville displaced persons camp in Haiti.  Six weeks after the earthquake, and the physical and human landscapes are still chaotic.  We are staying in a camp of tents constructed on tennis courts of what was once a beautiful golf and tennis club — the “Petionville Club”. The US Army has taken up residence here, so everyone entering and exiting is checked by heavily armed troops.  Their tents surround the entire property, with one small group on the adjacent tennis court. On another side, is the JP Foundation (Sean Penn’s foundation), which consists of a large contingent of doctors and nurses who have set up a medical clinic.  We share bathroom and other facilities with the soldiers and the JP team.  Amazing the short time it takes to blend into the hum of army/camp routine.   I now have a deep respect for the role allied military can play in humanitarian missions.

The fairways in front of us have been turned into ‘home’ for 50-65,000 Haitians (numbers vary depending upon who is quoting them), with tents and makeshift shelters providing the only cover they have from the sun during the day and the downpours of rain during the night.  The spaces/pathways between the rows of shelter have turned into slush with the rain but everyone trudges through. My first morning in the camp, about 200 people were lined up for water. The smells of so many people congregated in one place pervades the air.  Kids and adults stood around watching the activity around them. Three “school tents” have been constructed in the precious space. The school is open to only 100 students – the demand so great on the first day that over 500 lined up to attend. But space in the camp is limited, and that allows just one hundred kids to attend for one month. Little markets have sprung up outside tents, selling anything from water to fruit to candy, canned goods and used clothes – all sitting in the mud waiting to be sold.  UN or army helicopters often buzz overhead, hummers zoom in and out of the main drive, and huge supply trucks are often coming in and out.

I am told that the streets of Port au Prince are pretty much as they were since January 12 – with whole buildings just collapsed in on themselves and each other.  “Pancaked” seems the only word that captures the complete dissolution of the floors that once separated the now flatly layered concrete slabs.  Houses that were once terraced homes cascading down the mountainside are piles of rubble cascading down the mountain instead.  In some places kids sit atop the rubble and stare into space.  The street market economy is equally abuzz here, with throngs of people everywhere.   Products for sale are displayed on any available space – jeans hanging on fences, rows and rows of sneakers tied to metal railings, food displayed in baskets – connecting people to each other and to their past by continuing some normal routines.  Signs of resilience and strength living hand in hand with distress.

Pam

Psychology Beyond Borders is currently monitoring the situation on the ground in Haiti and talking to groups involved in both the physical and psychosocial recovery efforts, ever mindful that the very presence of foreign NGO’s can add to the burden of the locals, even with the best of intentions.

2009 H1N1 Influenza: Clinician Resources from the CDC

As our country (and world) attempts to navigate the sea of information on the H1N1 Flu, PBB would like to share this link from the Center for Disease Control on the subject. This page has been redesigned to give clinicians access, with an ease of search to the latest guidelines and information on the evolving 2009 H1N1 Influenza A.

http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/clinicians/

 

International Mental Health Policy: the Nicaragua precedent

by Eva Shaw, PBB Intern

As awareness and knowledge continues to grow regarding the global burden of disease attributable to mental health problems, researchers, communities, agencies and governments search for large scale solutions that promote improved quality of life, especially for populations impacted by war and disasters. Models include microcredit provision, promoting community social support and self-efficacy, or the training and implementation of integrated care programs within existing health systems. Part of that search involves understanding how the world of health policy interfaces with international mental health efforts. PBB is likewise interested in mental health policy, recently adding “Policy Development” pages to their website.

In the spirit of inquiry, I offer the following case as an example to consider how international treaties can serve as tools to protect the health of peoples around the world.

While I was a student of public health policy and management at the University of Arizona, Tucson during 2005-2006, I planned a lecture series for students and faculty interested in international health. As part of the series, and due to my own curiosity in international health policy, I invited a student of Professor James Anaya and the Indigenous People’s Law and Policy Program to speak to the group at my home.

Professor Anaya is a renowned lawyer whose work aims to protect the land and rights of indigenous peoples around the world; he was appointed in 2008 to serve as the United National Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. During the presentation given by his student Leonardo Alvarado, now an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Northern Arizona University, we learned of the Awas Tingni versus Nicaragua case. In their article, “The Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights over Lands and Natural Resources under the Inter-American Human Rights System” professors Anaya and Willams (2001) discuss how the promulgation of treaties since the International Labour Convention No. 107 of 1957 leading up to the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, along with the indigenous peoples’ rights movement, created standards and discourse which today influence other U.N. committees and processes. Such bodies are the U.N. Committee for Human Rights, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the World Bank, the Inter-development Bank and domestic legal agencies working for indigenous peoples’ rights. These developments “reflect the ever increasing interdependencies, ever improving communication technologies and burgeoning international institutions that characterize the contemporary international system and its human rights regime…” (p. 35.) The United Nations Committee on Human Rights as well as the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (which serves to protect indigenous peoples’ rights in Latin America) have taken numerous complaints and investigated cases on behalf of indigenous peoples. The Awas Tingni case was the first case that the OAS actually prosecuted,  to protect  the Nicaraguan Mayagna and Miskito indigenous groups’ rights to their land despite logging claims by the Nicaraguan government (and a contracted Korean corporation). Because the Nicaraguan government had during a previous administration become party to the American Convention on Human Rights, it was determined that the disputing administration was still required to abide by its tenets. Significantly, following the ruling, for the first time the World Bank conditioned delivery of an aid package on the outcome of the case, specifically for the Nicaragua government to develop a plan demarcating the lands belonging to the Mayagna and Miskito tribes in order to receive their aid.

After the presentation, the group at my home discussed whether the Nicaragua ruling could serve as a template to protect international health. Could, for example, United Nations or regional courts take complaints from human rights bodies or community representatives regarding health-related violations of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, to which 193 countries are party (not including the United States)?  Or, could complaints be submitted to protect the health of women according to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, signed by 186 countries (and signed but not ratified by the United States)?  How about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (68 parties, signed but not ratified by the U.S.)? Or, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (160 parties, signed but not ratified by the U.S.), including Article 12 which states, “the States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”? Could it be possible that through the organization of appropriate legal bodies, governments could be held accountable to support the mental health of peoples around the world? The Awas Tingni case is a remarkable advancement regarding the use of international treaties to protect indigenous peoples’ well-being. One wonders if there will be a time when other rights, such as health and mental health will be protected via international law and policy, as well.

For more information, see:

International Human Rights Instruments

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/

The United Nations Treaty Collection: Treaty reference guide http://untreaty.un.org/English/guide.pdf

Anaya, J. & Williams, R.A. (2001). The Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Over Lands and Natural Resources Under the Inter-American Human Rights System, The Harvard Journal of Human Rights, (14) 33.

The University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples’ Law and Policy Program http://www.law.arizona.edu/depts/iplp/index.cfm

Eva Shaw, MPH is a PBB intern and a graduate student of clinical social work at University of Texas, Austin.

Former nurse’s aide in US becomes Ugandan king

Story taken from Yahoo News.

AP – Charles Wesley Mumbere during an interview at his house in Kasese, Sunday, Oct 18, 2009...

AP – Charles Wesley Mumbere during an interview at his house in Kasese, Sunday, Oct 18, 2009...

By TOM MALITI, Associated Press Writer Tom Maliti, Associated Press Writer – Mon Oct 19, 3:44 pm ET

KASESE, Uganda – For years, Charles Wesley Mumbere worked as a nurse’s aide in Maryland and Pennsylvania, caring for the elderly and sick. No one there suspected that he had inherited a royal title in his African homeland when he was just 13.

On Monday, after years of political upheaval and financial struggle, Mumbere, 56, was finally crowned king of his people to the sound of drumbeats and thousands of cheering supporters wearing cloth printed with his portraits.

At a public rally later in the day, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni officially recognized the 300,000-strong Rwenzururu Kingdom. Museveni restored the traditional kingdoms his predecessor banned in 1967, but has been adamant that kings restrict themselves to cultural duties and keep out of politics.

“It is a great moment to know that finally the central government has understood the demands of the Bakonzo people who have been seeking very hard for recognition of their identity,” Mumbere told The Associated Press in the whitewashed single-story building that serves as a palace.

The Rwenzururu parliament sits nearby, in a much larger structure made of reeds. It was here the traditional private rituals were held Sunday night and Monday morning to crown Mumbere king.

Thousands walked several miles (kilometers) to see Mumbere, dressed in flowing green robes and a colorful hat, be officially recognized.

Old men clutching canes shuffled up the hill beside women in colorful Ugandan dresses called “gomesi.” Among them was Masereka Tadai, 43, proudly overseeing practice for a march that retired scouts and girl guides would perform before the king.

“Everyone is very happy because the president has accepted to come here and officially recognize the Rwenzururu Kingdom,” Tadai said over a nearby drumbeat.

The new King of Uganda’s Mountains of the Moon has undergone many transformations — from teenage leader of a rebel force to impoverished student to a nursing home assistant working two jobs in the U.S., where he lived for nearly 25 years.

Mumbere’s royal roots only became public in Pennsylvania this July, when he granted an interview to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg as he was preparing to return to Uganda.

He inherited the title when his father, Isaya Mukirania Kibanzanga, died while leading a secessionist group in the Rwenzori Mountains, otherwise known as the Mountains of the Moon. The rebels were protesting the oppression of their Bakonzo ethnic group by their then-rulers, the Toro Kingdom.

The Bakonzo demanded to be recognized as a separate entity and named Kibanzanga, a former primary school teacher, as their king in 1963.

“It was very difficult growing up in the bush,” remembered Mumbere, who was 9 years old when his father took the family into the mountains. Although he received military training, Mumbere did not fight.

“Our country has been independent (from the British) for 40-something years but in Rwenzururu you may not find running water, there are no hospitals,” Mumbere said.

Shortly after Kibanzanga died, his son led the fighters down from the mountains to hand in their weapons. Mumbere went to the United States in 1984 on a Uganda government scholarship, attending a business school until Uganda’s leadership changed and the stipend was stopped. He gained political asylum in 1987, trained as a nurse’s aide and took a job in a suburban Washington nursing home to pay his bills, said The Patriot-News of Harrisburg in a July 2009 story.

In 1999, he moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, where he worked for at least two health care facilities.

He was “very loyal, a very hard worker, a very private person,” said Johnna Marx, executive director of the Golden Living Center-Blue Ridge Mountain on the outskirts of Harrisburg.

Mumbere said he chose to train as a nurse’s aide because the work, “was more reliable. Other jobs you can be laid off easily.”

Living in the U.S., however, was “a very difficult experience,” he said. “Sometimes you have two jobs. You go to college in the morning, between 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then you go prepare to go to work at 3 p.m. and then return at 11 p.m.”

He is now a green card holder, and his son and daughter live in Harrisburg. But he never forgot the people he left behind. When the Ugandan government decided to reinstate the traditional kingdoms, Mumbere lobbied the Rwenzururu Kingdom to be among them.

After 10 years of negotiation, President Museveni announced in August the government would recognize the Rwenzururu Kingdom as Uganda’s seventh kingdom. Government recognition does not grant any executive power but allows the monarchs to determine cultural and social issues affecting their people.

Donate to Your Favorite Charity Everyday…. At No Cost To You

In these hard economic times NGOs are feeling the pinch just like everyone else.  Although our wallets have gotten smaller I know that our hearts have not.  There are still people to help and causes to support.  The question is, how can we get it all done?  Well, it may not be as hard as you think.  You can donate to your favorite charity everyday simply by using the internet.  There are two new tools available to help.

GoodSearch.com is a Yahoo-powered search engine that donates half its advertising revenue, about a penny per search, to the charities its users designate. Use it just as you would any search engine, get quality search results from Yahoo, and watch the donations add up!

GoodShop.com is a new online shopping mall which donates up to 37 percent of each purchase to your favorite cause.  Hundreds of great stores including Amazon, Target, Gap, Best Buy, ebay, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble have teamed up with GoodShop and every time you place an order, you’ll be supporting your favorite charity.

To find out more go to www.goodsearch.com.  Be sure to enter Psychology Beyond Borders as the charity you want to support.

Did John Wayne ever have PTSD? Toughness and Trauma

Are there certain types of people who do better at handling traumatic events than others?  Almost certainly – as discussed earlier on this blog, a variety of differences in things such as emotional expressivity and physiological reactivity can predict people’s responses to traumatic events.  But that’s not the interesting question.  After all, there are individual differences in almost every psychological phenomenon you can find.  The interesting question (at least to me) is this: is pop culture accurate as to what kind of person can best cope with traumatic events?  Is there a kernel of truth to the idea of “toughness?”  Does the stereotypical image of a rough, tough, macho man (or woman) who can eat nails and spit bullets have any relevance to the actual psychological predictors that can help predict a healthy response to a traumatic event?   Some insight on this question comes from a chapter written by Patricia Watson and colleagues published in the book “Interventions following mass violence and disasters: Strategies for mental health practice”  (Ritchie, Watson, & Friedman, 2006). Watson et al’s chapter looks at what predicts healthy resilience following disasters and mass traumas.  As a part of that, they brush up against many of the things that characterize a traditional tough-guy/gal, and paint an interesting picture of whether Hollywood got it right.  Let’s see how the image of a tough person holds up by looking at the research behind some traditional characteristics that show up in “tough” characters on TV and in movies:

1.    A tough guy/gal is capable, and knows how to handle any event. This type of confidence is referred to as “coping self-efficacy,” a relatively fancy term that basically means that people have a perception of themselves as able to effectively handle stressful or negative events.  If someone believes that they can appropriately handle anything life throws at them, they’re much more likely to recover from any specific stressful event.  Whether it’s through building machines like MacGuyver or just gunning down anyone who gets in her way like Vazquez from the movie Aliens, the traditional tough-guy/gal can handle anything that comes their way – and this means that they will probably recover well from a traumatic event.

2.    A tough guy/gal started out green and “toughened up.” The research on this suggests this can be true.  Repeated exposure to challenges or stressors, if followed by good recovery periods, can help to keep the body’s system used to responding to and recovering from stressful events .  This can reduce long-term distress.  Importantly, however, this only works if the stressful event is something that does not itself cause long-term distress.  Situations which included loss, or emphasize that the person is not in control of their life can be bad, and can weaken instead of improve people’s overall resilience.

3.    A tough guy/gal is fit. Physical fitness is important for every kind of health – including mental health!  People who are in good shape are both more likely to have had repeated demonstrations of their ability to handle challenging situations (through the challenging process of getting fit) and are also more likely be able to respond in a healthy fashion to the physiological response to stressors.

4.    A tough guy/gal is a loner, who works best alone and broods over their past with a glass of straight whisky. Uh-oh.  Now, our tough guy/gal has a serious problem.  This pattern of characteristics that is so popular in our images of tough heroes that it has become a cultural stereotype is almost exactly the opposite of the best way to respond to a traumatic event.  Research consistently shows, over and over again, that the people who recover best from traumatic events are people who seek help from others, and build large social networks that provide critical social support.  Talking to others about the traumatic event (when they want to), and spending time with others in healthy, positive social interactions, helps to support healthy coping strategies.  This allows people to see themselves in a positive light, improves perceptions of mastery and helps with constructing a narrative of the traumatic event that provides meaning, an important predictor in recovery.  Moreover, using alcohol as a way of coping with a traumatic event is a bad idea – it does not contribute to long-term mental health, may exacerbate feeling badly, and can easily lead to more significant problems down the road.

So overall, what does this suggest about our images of toughness?  There are some good ideas there.  Physical fitness, self-confidence and mastery, and a history of successfully managed stressful events can all help to improve response to traumatic events, and someone who works to develop those traits will probably show more healthy long-term responses to trauma than those without them.  But the image that often goes with those traits in popular culture, of a person who holds themselves separate from the rest of the world and works as a “lone wolf”… well, it’s a powerful image and one that is tempting to many people.  But the research is clear: lone wolves don’t work as well as those who have a pack.  Social engagement and positive social interactions are one of the best ways to recover from a traumatic event.  If you define toughness as the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you, then the toughest person in the room is not likely to be the Indiana Jones lookalike brooding alone at the end of the bar.  It’s probably the person surrounded by her friends, and having a positive, cheerful time.

Are there certain types of people who do better at handling traumatic events than others?  Almost certainly – as

discussed earlier on this blog, (https://beyondfearblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/gender-and-ptsd) a variety of

differences in things such as emotional expressivity and physiological reactivity can predict people’s responses

to traumatic events.  But that’s not the interesting question.  After all, there are individual differences in

almost every psychological phenomenon you can find.  The interesting question (at least to me) is this: is pop

culture accurate as to what kind of person can best cope with traumatic events?  Is there a kernel of truth to

the idea of “toughness?”  Does the stereotypical image of a rough, tough, macho man (or woman) who can eat nails

and spit bullets have any relevance to the actual psychological predictors that can help predict a healthy

response to a traumatic event?   Some insight on this question comes from a chapter written by Patricia Watson

and colleagues published in the book “Interventions following mass violence and disasters: Strategies for mental

health practice”

(http://www.amazon.com/Interventions-Following-Mass-Violence-Disasters/dp/1593852568/ref=ed_oe_h) (Ritchie,

Watson, & Friedman, 2006).
Watson et al’s chapter looks at what predicts healthy resilience following disasters and mass traumas.  As a

part of that, they brush up against many of the things that characterize a traditional tough-guy/gal, and paint

an interesting picture of whether Hollywood got it right.  Let’s see how the image of a tough person holds up by

looking at the research behind some traditional characteristics that show up in “tough” characters on TV and in

movies:
1.    A tough guy/gal is capable, and knows how to handle any event.  This type of confidence is referred to

as “coping self-efficacy,” a relatively fancy term that basically means that people have a perception of

themselves as able to effectively handle stressful or negative events.  If someone believes that they can

appropriately handle anything life throws at them, they’re much more likely to recover from any specific

stressful event.  Whether it’s through building machines like MacGuyver or just gunning down anyone who gets in

her way like Vazquez from the movie Aliens, the traditional tough-guy/gal can handle anything that comes their

way – and this means that they will probably recover well from a traumatic event.
2.    A tough guy/gal started out green and “toughened up.”  The research on this suggests this can be true.

Repeated exposure to challenges or stressors, if followed by good recovery periods, can help to keep the body’s

system used to responding to and recovering from stressful events .  This can reduce long-term distress.

Importantly, however, this only works if the stressful event is something that does not itself cause long-term

distress.  Situations which included loss, or emphasize that the person is not in control of their life can be

bad, and can weaken instead of improve people’s overall resilience.
3.    A tough guy/gal is fit.  Physical fitness is important for every kind of health – including mental

health!  People who are in good shape are both more likely to have had repeated demonstrations of their ability

to handle challenging situations (through the challenging process of getting fit) and are also more likely be

able to respond in a healthy fashion to the physiological response to stressors.
4.    A tough guy/gal is a loner, who works best alone and broods over their past with a glass of straight

whisky.   Uh-oh.  Now, our tough guy/gal has a serious problem.  This pattern of characteristics that is so

popular in our images of tough heroes that it has become a cultural stereotype is almost exactly the opposite of

the best way to respond to a traumatic event.  Research consistently shows, over and over again, that the people

who recover best from traumatic events are people who seek help from others, and build large social networks

that provide critical social support.  Talking to others about the traumatic event (when they want to), and

spending time with others in healthy, positive social interactions, helps to support healthy coping strategies.

This allows people to see themselves in a positive light, improves perceptions of mastery and helps with

constructing a narrative of the traumatic event that provides meaning, an important predictor in recovery

(https://beyondfearblog.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/can-political-commitment-protect-people-from-ptsd/).  Moreover,

using alcohol as a way of coping with a traumatic event is a bad idea – it does not contribute to long-term

mental health, may exacerbate feeling badly, and can easily lead to more significant problems down the road.
So overall, what does this suggest about our images of toughness?  There are some good ideas there.  Physical

fitness, self-confidence and mastery, and a history of successfully managed stressful events can all help to

improve response to traumatic events, and someone who works to develop those traits will probably show more

healthy long-term responses to trauma than those without them.  But the image that often goes with those traits

in popular culture, of a person who holds themselves separate from the rest of the world and works as a “lone

wolf”… well, it’s a powerful image and one that is tempting to many people.  But the research is clear: lone

wolves don’t work as well as those who have a pack.  Social engagement and positive social interactions are one

of the best ways to recover from a traumatic event.  If you define toughness as the ability to overcome anything

that life throws at you, then the toughest person in the room is not likely to be the Indiana Jones lookalike

brooding alone at the end of the bar.  It’s probably the person surrounded by her friends, and having a

positive, cheerful time.

9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance

As the United States approaches the 8th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, we also launch the first “9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance”

All across the United States as well as globally, people are putting together service plans and deciding on good deeds to conduct.

As an organization dedicated to addressing the emotional aftermath of disasters, terrorism and armed conflict, Psychology Beyond Borders is eager to hear what kinds of events people are planning for this September 11, 2009.

Please let Psychology Beyond Borders know what you are planning to do on this, our nation’s first official National Day of Service and Remembrance. Link to our blog www.beyondfearblog.org and share your plans with our audience. Or go to our Facebook page.

We are eager to hear from you and hope that you feel the sense of connection to the people you serve and the rest of the world when you accomplish your service goals for 9/11/09.

For those of you interested in the 9/11/01 Memorial Information please visit http://national911memorial.org

Visit the Psychology Beyond Borders website at www.psychologybeyondborders.org for more information and resources on managing the psychological impact of disasters, terrorism and armed conflict.

I sincerely hope you are able to participate in the National Day of Service and as we honor those who died on 9/11 eight years ago, bring some joy to others in their memory. May that joy come back to you.


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