When terrible things happen in our communities, we can reach out a helping hand to those who are affected. Perhaps you find yourself at the scene of an accident where people are hurt. Perhaps you are a health-care worker or teacher talking with someone from your community who has just witnessed the violent death of a loved one. Perhaps you are called upon as a staff member in a disaster or volunteer to help asylum seekers who have recently arrived in your community. Learning the basic principles of psychological first aid will help you to provide support to people who are very distressed, and, importantly, to know what not to say.
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.