Hurricane Matthew left in its wake massive destruction when it landed on several countries. The major concern right now is the safety of all those areas that were affected. But in the coming months, the mental health of everyone affected will have to be considered. War and disasters leave a lot of people vulnerable to depression and other mental health diseases.
According to the World Health Organization, “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
The WHO observes the World Mental Health Day on October 10 and is part of the Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020. This year’s theme was “Psychological First Aid (PFA)” which aims at equipping first responders, volunteers, teachers, parents, and people in public service to be aware how to factor respond to the mental health aspect of a crisis.
What is PFA?
Humane, supportive, and practical assistance to fellow human beings who recently suffered from serious stress:
• Non-intrusive, practical care and support
• Assessing needs and concerns
• Helping people to 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
• Protecting people from further harm
What PFA is NOT?
• NOT something only professionals can do
• NOT professional counselling
• NOT a clinical or psychiatric intervention (although can be part of good clinical care)
• NOT “psychological debriefing”
• NOT asking people to analyze what happened or put time and events in order
• NOT pressuring people to tell you their story, or asking details about how they feel or what happened
How to Help Responsibly
• Adapt what you do to take account of the person’s culture
• Respect safety, dignity and rights
– Safety: don’t expose people to further harm, ensure (as best you can) they are safe and protected from further physical or psychological harm
– Dignity: treat people with respect and according to their cultural and social norms
– Rights: act only in people’s best interest, ensure access to impartial assistance without discrimination, assist people to claim their rights and access available support
• Be aware of other emergency response measures
• Care for caregivers: practice self-care and team-care
Helping Responsibly: Ethical Guidelines
• Be honest and trustworthy.
• Respect a person’s right to make their own decisions.
• Be aware of and set aside your own biases and prejudices.
• Make it clear to people that even if they refuse help now, they can still access help in the future.
• Respect privacy and keep the person’s story confidential, as appropriate.
• Behave appropriately according to the person’s culture, age, and gender.
• Don’t exploit your relationship as a helper.
• Don’t ask the person for any money or favor for helping them.
• Don’t make false promises or give false information.
• Don’t exaggerate your skills.
• Don’t force help on people, and don’t be intrusive or pushy.
• Don’t pressure people to tell you their story.
• Don’t share the person’s story with others.
• Don’t judge the person for their actions or feelings.
These are sourced from WHO, and more resources can be found on the website.