Assassination of Haiti President Will Exacerbate Mental Health Challenges in Long-Struggling Country

Statement from Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO

On behalf of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, I extend deepest condolences to the family of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated early yesterday morning, and send warmest wishes to his wife Martine for recovery from the critical injuries she sustained during this tragic incident.

While the assassination alone is grievous, this situation is even more distressing for the citizens of Haiti as they have been struggling with gang violence and political instability, as well as ongoing efforts to recover from the devastation wrought by an earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

These dire circumstances undoubtedly have profound, long-lasting impacts on individuals' mental health. The loss of President Moïse and the uncertainty for Haiti's future will exacerbate the effects on mental health throughout the country.

The shortage of mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment providers in Haiti, which became more pronounced particularly after the 2010 earthquake that claimed two million lives, will result in further intensified mental health challenges, which will likely include substance use, in the months and potentially years to come.

This is another example of a man-made disaster that could exacerbate depression, anxiety and other symptoms among individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses and lead to the development of such conditions. As we have seen with other man-made disasters, such as 9/11, as well as natural disasters and other crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the full continuum of behavioral healthcare services must always be available for everyone. There are both immediate and lingering impacts on individuals' mental health, which could include substance use, that need to be identified and treated early to significantly reduce the risk of these disorders becoming severe and potentially leading to suicide or death by overdoses.

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