Good and effective psychological first aid is like effective and timely medical first aid and can save lives
Every October, the world celebrates World Mental Health Day. It is a day to remind us of the importance of mental health for all.
This year is particularly noteworthy as we are stepping away from our challenges during the pandemic and moving forward with hopefully, a better perspective on mental health. Therefore, the theme ‘Make Mental Health and Well-being for All a Global Priority’, comes at a perfect time. This is so as we have learnt a lot during the pandemic, that mental health has become one of the central components of public mental health.
We should no longer restrict the task of helping people with mental health problems exclusively to the mental health professionals. Much work should be done at a preventative level, including providing first-hand support during crises and trauma.
Good and effective psychological first aid (PFA) is like an effective and timely medical first aid. It can save lives. Therefore, the community should also realise it’s significant role in helping those in need, especially vulnerable groups.
Imagine having no support while you are in an emotional crisis or receiving stigmatising comments and remarks from others when you try to share your problems. This can surely put someone at risk of feeling hopeless and helpless.
Which will certainly exacerbate the trauma further. This is why having some skills and understanding of psychological first aid is handy and highly recommended.
Principles of PFA
Psychological first aid (PFA) is an evidence-based and human-oriented practical help given to individuals affected by trauma or crisis, especially those at risk of mental health issues. This includes women, children, the poor, immigrants, victims of domestic violence and those affected by disaster. It is based on three basic principles – Look, Listen and Link.
- Look – this principle involves observing and monitoring the immediate risk and needs of individuals affected. In a disaster situation, for example, one may need to assess the safety and security risk, and provide immediate shelter and help for the victims, including basic primary needs, emotional needs and family support.
- Listen – this principle requires the provider to approach the individual in an empathetic manner, paying attention and listening attentively in order to understand the person’s feelings. Attentive listening will provide a great outlet for the victim to voice out his feelings and voice out his needs in order to be supported by others.
- Link – this principle will help the affected person feel supported by giving them the relevant information, services, and other sources of assistance available. We can also help them get connected with the social support that they need.
These basic principles may seem simple yet the absence of these in a time of crisis can cause significant damage to one’s emotional well-being.
In practical, these principles can be translated into actions of A.S.S.I.S.T
A – approach the person
S – stabilise the emotion
S – serve their needs
I – inform them of the facts
S – support their story
T – turn them toward further services
Individuals who want to provide psychological first aid should also be mindful that their actions can cause harm if not done properly. Therefore, it is important to understand the crisis situation before helping and
not force the person to accept the help.
Any conversation should be done with respect, integrity and confidentiality. The provider needs to remain patient, responsible, responsive, and sensitive.
Simple gestures such as speaking calmly and clearly will ease communication during this critical time. We need to provide accurate, relevant, and age-appropriate information.
We also must avoid any communication containing assumptions, criticism, assessments, and promises. Even if the person in crisis refuses your help when offered, show your willingness to help them in the future. — The Health