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The “Trauma Signature:” Understanding the Psychological Consequences of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

  • James M. Shultz (a1), Louis Herns Marcelin (a2), Sharon B. Madanes (a3), Zelde Espinel (a4) and Yuval Neria (a5)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 18 November 2011

The 2010 Haiti earthquake was one of the most catastrophic episodes in history, leaving 5% of the nation’s population killed or injured, and 19% internally displaced. The distinctive combination of earthquake hazards and vulnerabilities, extreme loss of life, and paralyzing damage to infrastructure, predicts population-wide psychological distress, debilitating psychopathology, and pervasive traumatic grief. However, mental health was not referenced in the national recovery plan. The limited MHPSS services provided in the first eight months generally lacked coordination and empirical basis.

There is a need to customize and coordinate disaster mental health assessments, interventions, and prevention efforts around the novel stressors and consequences of each traumatic event. An analysis of the key features of the 2010 Haiti earthquake was conducted, defining its “Trauma Signature” based on a synthesis of early disaster situation reports to identify the unique assortment of risk factors for post-disaster mental health consequences. This assessment suggests that multiple psychological risk factors were prominent features of the earthquake in Haiti. For rapid-onset disasters, Trauma Signature (TSIG) analysis can be performed during the post-impact/pre-deployment phase to target the MHPSS response in a manner that is evidence-based and tailored to the event-specific exposures and experiences of disaster survivors. Formalization of tools to perform TSIG analysis is needed to enhance the timeliness and accuracy of these assessments and to extend this approach to human-generated disasters and humanitarian crises.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: James M. Shultz, PhD 251 174th Street #2319Sunny Isles Beach, FL, USA Email:
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