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I lived through the earthquake in Haiti

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The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 was a dramatic and unusual event because it was sudden and unforeseen, and because of the extent of the casualties and losses it caused among the Haitian population. A disaster of such severity disrupts the daily lives of those affected on physical, financial, material, psychological and social plans. But beyond the uncertainty and the losses that may arise, this situation calls on individuals, families, the entire Haitian community and society at large to adapt and organize.

What might I experience in the wake of a disaster?

While everyone's experience is unique, many may react more or less strongly to the situation. Such reactions are quite normal following an event that is abnormal.

I may experience:

  • stress and anxiety
  • physical ailments (for example, headaches, difficulty breathing)
  • anger, irritability, aggressiveness, impatience
  • feelings of powerlessness, despair, depressive mood
  • worry, panic
  • feelings of guilt, pain
  • insomnia, fatigue, exhaustion
  • isolation
  • an increase in my consumption of alcohol, drugs, or medication
  • conflict and tension in relationships with those around me

I may also experience more positive reactions, such as:

  • greater closeness with those around me
  • a change in, or strengthening of, my values and beliefs
  • the creation of new relationships with others
  • the discovery of new strengths (stress tolerance, ability to adapt, etc.)
  • getting to know new people who have lived through similar experiences
  • acquisition of new knowledge

The way that children react depends upon their age, and they will tend to imitate the reactions of those around them. Also, members of the same family may experience different reactions.

Reactions may also be influenced by our beliefs and values, as well as by the support from others that we rely on.

In addition, such events can lead us to question the meaning of life.

For example:

  • A feeling of injustice about the earthquake: "Why me? Why them?"
  • Difficulty in understanding what is happening to me at the moment.
  • A need to find a meaning to ascribe to the events that have occurred.
  • The idea that those around me are wicked and do not want to help me.
  • Difficulty in resuming a life that I find satisfactory.
  • Feeling exhausted and losing hope of a better future.

What are my strengths and my resources? What can I do?

Everybody has the strength and abilities needed to adapt to the new reality in the wake of an earthquake. Here are some questions that may help you identify your strengths and abilities:

  • What can I change in my current situation?
  • Are there times when the situation seems to be less trying?
  • What can I do to make these moments happen more often?
  • What can I do to help me feel a little better in the current situation?
  • If I were to imagine a future in which my situation was less difficult, what would be different? What can I do to work towards this?
  • Can I offer help to support members of my community?
  • What positive measures can help me manage my stress effectively?

Here are some examples of ideas that can help you put your strengths and resources into action:

  • I can find somebody among my family and friends who can give me concrete help in the present situation.
  • I can talk about my feelings and my perception of the disaster with one or more persons I trust.
  • I can look for measures to take in helping me attain the changes I would like to achieve.
  • I can protect myself by avoiding overexposure to too many images broadcast by the media.
  • I can make use of strengths that I developed in previous experiences.
  • I can help those around me; I can get involved in my community.
  • I can engage in activities that will meet my needs and expectations.
  • I can seek professional help to get the support I need.

Despite measures you take to deal with the situation, you may find that your reactions persist and become stronger. Here are some reactions to which you have to pay special attention in order to prevent your situation from deteriorating.

Post-traumatic reactions

Some people who have survived the earthquake and witnessed horrifying scenes may experience difficulty coping with certain reactions.

Reactions in which we feel we are constantly reliving the event:

  • recurrent, overwhelming recollections of the earthquake (images, thoughts, perceptions)
  • recurrent nightmares
  • a strong feeling that the earthquake will recur
  • flashbacks (sudden mental images of things that have happened)
  • a feeling of distress, and intense, uncontrollable reactions when we see images or hear talk of the earthquake.

Avoidance reactions:

  • efforts to avoid anything that might remind us of the earthquake (thoughts, feelings, activities, conversations, television images, etc.)
  • inability to remember important points about the earthquake
  • reduced interest in activities that we liked before the earthquake
  • trouble expressing our feelings
  • withdrawal from friends and loved ones
  • the feeling that no future is possible.

Physical and hypervigilance reactions:

  • persistent fatigue
  • nausea, stomach pains
  • muscle pains, pressure in the chest, constricted throat
  • headaches, dizziness
  • startled reactions ("jumpiness")
  • palpitations, trembling, sweating.

The intensity of these reactions can gradually exhaust a person and make them feel increasingly depressed. If you experience such reactions for longer than four weeks, it is important to consult a professional who can assess your situation and get you appropriate help.

You are not alone in experiencing this situation. Do not hesitate to ask for help.

Despite the difficulties that disasters on this scale cause, they may also bring beneficial effects, such as mutual help and solidarity between members of the community and society as a whole.

Do not give up hope!

Where can I get information?


  • Services Québec toll-free line: 1 877 644-4545
  • Régie de l'assurance maladie: Montréal, 514 864-3411, elsewhere in Québec: 1 800 561-9749
  • Emergency Operations Centre, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: 613 996-8885 (collect call), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week


Where can I get help?

Produced with the collaboration of

  • CSSS de Lac-Saint-Jean-Est
  • Mr. Pierre-Paul Malenfant, t.s., (psychosocial) Civil Security Counsellor (psychosocial), MSSS


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Different psychosocial information sheet about earthquake in Haiti are availlable:

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