What is Psychological First Aid
Psychological First Aid which is abbreviated (PFA) is an initial disaster response intervention with the goal to promote safety, stabilize survivors of disasters and connect individuals to help and resources. It is done by a mental health professionals and other first responders.
Importance of Psychological First Aid
Psychological First Aid offers first-line emotional and practical support to people experiencing acute distress due to a recent event and should be made available by field workers, including health staff, teachers or trained volunteers.
It is very important as individuals involve in disasters are often traumatized. The main purpose of PFA is to assess the immediate concerns and needs of an individual in the aftermath of a disaster, and not to provide on-site therapy.
Key Fact on Mental Health Emergencies
- Almost all people affected by emergencies will experience psychological distress, which for most people will improve over time.
- Among people who have experienced war or other conflict in the previous 10 years, one in 11 (9%) will have a moderate or severe mental disorder.
- One person in five (22%) living in an area affected by conflict is estimated to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
- Depression tends to be more common among women than men.
- Depression and anxiety become more common as people get older.
- People with severe mental disorders are especially vulnerable during emergencies and need access to mental health care and other basic needs.
- International guidelines recommend services at a number of levels ̶ from basic services to clinical care ̶ and indicate that mental health care needs to be made available immediately for specific, urgent mental health problems as part of the health response.
- Despite their tragic nature and adverse effects on mental health, emergencies have shown to be opportunities to build sustainable mental health systems for all people in need.
How do Emergencies Impact Mental Health
Most people affected by emergencies will experience distress (e.g. feelings of anxiety and sadness, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, irritability or anger and/or aches and pains).
This is normal and will for most people improve over time. However, the prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety is expected to more than double in a humanitarian crisis.
The psychological effects of emergencies vary from person to person and situation to situation. It is hard to predict how people will react but generally speaking an emergency is divided into six distinct stages that will each have their own set of emotional levels.
The people affected by emergencies are divided into three groups:
- Primary victims or survivors – The individuals who have been directly impacted by the resulting damage and loss.
- Emergency responders – Firefighters, paramedics, police, Red Cross, and other local emergency services. We are speaking specifically of the responders inside the disaster area not those coming in from the outside.
- Vicarious observers – Friends, relatives, and others who get involved vicariously because they know someone or they see the tragedy on TV or hear about it on the radio. This group can be quite large.
Being aware of how stressful events unfold and how people generally react is part of being prepared. Ensure that people take care of themselves as well as others by taking breaks, resting, and eating well.
Principles of Psychological First Aid
PFA is about comforting someone who is in distress and helping them feel safe and calm. It provides emotional support and helps people to address immediate basic needs and find information, services and social support. The three action principles of Look, Listen and Link indicate that PFA is a way to approach someone in distress, assess what help he or she needs, and help him or her to obtain that help.
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LOOK (Pay attention to a situation)
- Establish what has or is happening.
- Establish who needs help.
- Identify safety and security risks.
- Identify physical injuries.
- Identify immediate basic and practical needs.
- Observe emotional reactions.
LISTEN (Pay attention to the person)
- Introduce yourself.
- Pay attention and listen actively.
- Accept others’ feelings.
- Calm the person in distress.
- Ask about needs and concerns.
- Help the person(s) in distress to find solutions to their needs and problems.
LINK (Take action to help)
- Find information.
- Connect with the person’s loved ones and social support.
- Tackle practical problems.
- Obtain services and other help.