This year, On World Mental Health Day celebrated on 10th October, The W.H.O has chosen the theme of 'psychological first aid for all'. This provides us an opportunity to focus on an area that continues to be challenging for people suffering from mental ill health and their families, especially getting immediate help in a crisis situation. We are all aware of the steps to take when someone collapses due to a physical illness like a heart attack, or is badly injured. There is always someone in any environment who knows about physical first aid and provides the same before professionals appear. What happens when a person experiences a severe acute state of anxiety or an emotional breakdown, either at the work place, school, at the mall, or even at home. People are less likely to help during these situations because they are not aware and don't know how to handle such a situation.
Even when taken to an emergency room, people suffering from a physical crisis like a chest pain are more likely to get a quicker response time than someone who is suffering from mental crises. This is because there are several protocols present to deal with a physical crises and not much about mental emergencies, even though research has shown that providing psychological first aid is safe and effective. This is a problem seen not only in India, but world over. Why this large disparity between mental and physical health? Because, we still fail to see a mental problem as an "illness" that can be treated by taking the right medication or receiving the right first aid.
So, What is Psychological first aid and who can provide it? According to the W.H.O, Psychological first aid (PFA) is the first line of psychosocial support provided to people who are in mental crises. It should be noted that just psychological first aid, is not enough on tis own and needs to be followed up by professional help from either a psychologist or psychiatrist. PFA can be provided by anyone and at anytime. You do not be need to be a trained professional for giving psychological first aid. The important factor to remember about PFA is that is not about analyzing the problem a person has, rather provide support to the distressed so that their problems don't escalate till such time they can get professional help. The aim is to help them regain control so that they can take care of themselves.
Psychological first aid is particularly important when responding to an emergency situation. In the wake of a sudden emergency, majority of the people are faced with uncertainty and are in distress situations. It is first responders that need to be equipped to provide psychological first aid in addition to providing physical aid. People need to feel comfortable enough to cope with their loss and stress. An important aim of psychological first aid is to build people's capacity to recover. To support recovery by helping people to identify their immediate needs and their strengths and abilities to meet these needs.
In the spirit of this World Mental Health Day, it is important that we all play our part in helping alleviate mental as well as physical distress and increase the awareness about how important it is to maintain our mental health along with being physically fit. Remember nobody is immune to mental health distress and crisis and psychological first aid is a skill that may benefit you and everyone around you. We are all capable to providing psychological first aid during an emergency. To learn more about psychological first aid and how to provide psychological first aid please visit http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2016/en/