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Psychological First Aid

Psychological First Aid

It is now well recognised that traumatic events like floods, earthquakes, and pandemics have an ongoing effect on mental health. It is important to not only look at rebuilding the physical foundations of a community but also healing mental well-being.

In recent years there have been many programmes initiated internationally to formulate guidelines or criteria for optimal psychosocial care concerning critical incidents. The five essential principles for care givers are: to promote (1) a sense of safety, (2) calming, (3) self and community efficacy or value, (4) social connectedness, and (4) hope (Hobfoll et al., 2007)

Normal reactions to abnormal events

We can react to traumatic events in a variety of ways. Such events can change the way we feel, think or act, or all of these at once. It’s important to know that these are normal reactions.

  • Emotional – anxiety, grief, guilt, anger, irritability, frustration, sadness, shame, numbness, loss of hope, loss of meaning, feeling of emptiness.
  • Mind – loss of concentration, memory loss, confusion, intrusive thoughts, difficulties in decision making, disorganized thought.
  • Physical – increased heart-rate, sleeping problems, aches (stomach, head), back and neck pain, muscle tremors and tension, loss of energy, inability to rest and relax.
  • Behaviour – risk taking, over- or under-eating, increased intake of alcohol or cigarettes, aggression, withdrawal, isolation.

Psychosocial support

The term “psycho-social” refers to the dynamic relationship between the psychological and social dimensions of a person, where the dimensions influence each other. The psychological dimension includes emotional and thought processes, feelings and reactions. The social dimension includes relationships, family and community networks, social values and cultural practices.

“Psycho-social support” refers to actions that meet the psychological and social needs of individuals, families and communities. Early and adequate psycho-social support can prevent distress and suffering from turning into more severe mental health problems.

Taking care of ourselves

Helping responsibly also means taking care of your own health and wellbeing. As a helper, you may be affected by what you experience in a crisis, or you or your family may be directly affected by the event. It is important to pay extra attention to your own wellbeing and be sure that you are physically and emotionally able to help others. Take care of yourself so that you can best care for others. If working in a team, be aware of the wellbeing of your fellow helpers as well.

Toolkit for Volunteers

This Toolkit  is designed to help volunteers define their role in the community before, during, and after an epidemic and to take the actions that are best suited to that particular epidemic.

Imelda Coleman – Community Support & Outreach Co-ordinator <>

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