29 Jan Psychological First Aid – How you can make a difference
This year Australia’s bushfire season was particularly tragic.
It resonated with our collective psyche. We watched in horror, disbelief, and we mourned as a nation. We also rallied around, supported where possible and tried to alleviate our sense of helplessness however we could.
It is in this space that we lost our usual recovery period. Instead we gained trauma and vicarious trauma . We worried about our country, friends, families. We worried about climate control, politics and the future of our children.
Normally we seek the connection of other people who will try to alleviate or validate our feelings of discomfort. This time however, we could not help but feed each other’s anxieties and grief. We had to process, no matter where you turned, the message of Australia’s tragedy was being displayed. Even if you turned off the screens, stopped reading the news, the tragedy was in the very air that we breathed, and the skies displayed their coloured distress.
We will see the ongoing effects of these fires for years to come, both physically and mentally, and we will soon be working with the mental trauma the fires have created.
This poses the question – how can we help during times of emergency or crisis? The answer may be Psychological First Aid.
Understanding the principle of Psychological First Aid can give you the tools you need to greatly support any individual going through a period of uncertainty.
What is Psychological First Aid?
Psychological first aid is the supportive response to others who is suffering and who may need support. The essential principles involve helping people to feel safe, connected to others, calm and hopeful, access physical, emotional and social support, and feel able to help themselves.
Alongside this, good ‘first aid’ helps to reduce initial distress, meet current needs, promote flexible coping and encourage adjustment.
When is Psychological First Aid administered?
When there is a sudden, disruptive emergency – people will be exposed to uncertainty and stress. People will experience different degrees of distress and this is when they should have access to psychological first aid, where possible. Distress can affect anyone, including adults, adolescents and children, as well as disaster relief workers and first responders.
How people respond and cope depends on a variety of factors, including their experience of the emergency, their health, their personal history and their available supports.
How can I help someone during an emergency?
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests we follow three key actions: view and safely enter an emergency situation (LOOK) in order to understand the needs of affected people (LISTEN) and link them with the information and practical support they need (LINK).
Let’s break this down further:
- Check for safety.
- Check for people with obvious urgent basic needs.
- Check for people with serious distress reactions.
- Approach people who may need support.
- Ask about people’s needs and concerns.
- Listen to people and help them to feel calm.
- Help people address basic needs and access services.
- Help people cope with problems.
- Give information.
- Connect people with loved ones and social support.
Each situation will differ greatly and will need a different response accordingly. We would greatly suggest understanding the core principles and actions before taking any steps to support others. Click here to read a thorough guide.
Times of risk and uncertainly an affect us all in a multitude of different ways and we can all react differently. Some people will need much more support than psychological first aid. Know your limits and ask for help from others who can provide medical or other assistance to avert a crisis.