World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, observed on 10 October, covers “psychological first aid”. Efforts in support of the day will focus on basic pragmatic psychological support by people who find themselves in a helping role whether they be health staff, teachers, firemen, community workers, or police officers.
Despite its name, psychological first aid covers both psychological and social support. Just like general health care never consists of physical first aid alone, similarly no mental health care system should consist of psychological first aid alone. Indeed, the investment in psychological first aid is part of a longer-term effort to ensure that anyone in acute distress due to a crisis is able to receive basic support, and that those who need more than psychological first aid will receive additional advanced support from health, mental health and social services.
The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.
What is Psychological First Aid?
When terrible things happen, we want to reach out a helping hand to those who have been affected. Psychological First Aid (PFA) is a humane, supportive and practical response to people suffering exposure to serious stressors and who may need support. It is an approach to help people recover by responding to their basic needs and showing them concern and care, in a way that respects their wishes, culture, dignity and capabilities.
What does PFA involve?
giving non-intrusive, practical care and support
assessing people’s needs and concerns
helping people address basic needs (food, water)
listening, but not pressuring, people to talk
comforting people and helping them to feel calm
helping people connect to information, services and social support
protecting people from further harm
Who can offer PFA?
Perhaps you are called upon as a staff member or volunteer to help in a major disaster, or you find yourself at the scene of an accident where people are hurt. You may be a health worker helping someone who has been the victim of violence, or you may be a teacher, firefighter, police officer or emergency medical technician. Learning about PFA will help you to know the most supportive things to say and do for people who are very distressed. It will also give you information on how to approach a new situation safely for yourself and others, and not to cause harm by your actions.
Although many people cope well enough in crisis situations, others may feel overwhelmed, confused, fearful, sad, angry or numb. PFA may be helpful for people who feel emotionally distressed after a crisis event. However, some people may need specialized help, such as those in need of emergency medical care or with very serious emotional reactions such as being disoriented or unable to care for themselves. If you are providing PFA, know your limits! If possible, refer people in need of specialized help, to, for example, a health-care professional or psychologist.
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