Monday, 10 October 2016

Psychological First Aid: be prepared

Every year on the 10th October, the World Health Organisation asks us all to turn our attention to mental health - to learn more about it and the ways we can support those who are suffering.

Mental health is a term used to describe a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. It impacts how we think and feel, as well as the way we interact and engage with those around us.

There are many reasons why a person’s mental health may become imbalanced and many factors that contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors, life experiences and even family history. Mental health problems are more common than we think and that’s why World Mental Health Day is so important – to raise awareness and make sure people know where to get support.

This year’s World Mental Health Day centres on the topic of psychological first aid. It’s a complex area, designed to support people who have experienced a tragedy or trauma. On a global scale, this is about assisting children and adults following a disaster or terrorism. But closer to home, there are things we can all do to help our friends, neighbours and colleagues when terrible things happen, be it a sudden death of a loved one or the loss of a job or home, for example.

Often the terms emergency or disaster are used to describe disruptive and destructive events that cause loss of life, property and livelihoods. When this happens, people often lose confidence in the networks that are there to protect them. By learning the basic principles of psychological first aid, we can all be better prepared and able to support people in distress.

The concept of first aid is based on the fact that any of us may need to step in to assist when someone needs it. It’s a massive responsibility and can have a profound impact on those needing help.

The main aims of psychological first aid are to help people:

  • feel less distressed
  • understand the situation and its context
  • identify their own abilities to cope

Psychological first aid is delivered by trained professionals and we would not recommend attempting to deliver it yourself. However, there are a few general principles of psychological first aid that we can keep in mind when communicating with people who have been through a traumatic event, so that they know that support it available and people are listening to them.

Keep calm

  • People who are overwhelmed or disoriented respond best to people who themselves are stable, calm and composed.
  • Be friendly and compassionate even if people are being difficult, upset or demanding.
  • When people express fear or worry, remind them that more help and services are available and, if possible, how they can find them.

Encourage connections

  • Offer people, who wish to share their stories and emotions, the chance to talk without being forced and without too many questions.
  • Encourage people to contact their friends, loved ones and community leaders (as appropriate).
  • Offer practical help to people to address immediate needs and concerns, linking them with available services if you can.

Provide hope

  • Convey the expectancy that people will recover from what they have experienced.
  • Be there/be willing to help in the future if you feel able.
  • Reassure people that their feelings are normal.

More information on psychological first aid and World Mental Health Day > 

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