World Mental Health Day is an annual event. It seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues across the globe and mobilise efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme is Psychological First Aid (PFA).
Also known as Psycho-social First Aid, PFA is a psycho-social support offered to people who have experienced a traumatic crisis or event. Crisis events occur all over the world, and affect more than 100 million people worldwide with approximately 60 million people displaced because of them. Such crises have physical, social and emotional consequences for those affected. Due to this, PFA is an important mechanism to support such communities or individuals.
PFA is primarily offered by first respondents. A few to name would be firefighters in Nepal, humanitarians in modern day Syria, teachers working in a school which experienced a shooting etc. It is worth noting that you do not need to be a professional in order to provide PFA. This is because PFA focuses on the essential human needs, protection, dignity and respect which everyone deserves.
While the importance of psychological first aid is gaining momentum, it should still only be considered a component of first aid response and should not replace other aspects of the humanitarian response.
Currently PFA is endorsed by 24 UN/NGO international agencies. Indeed in 2009 the WHO’s mhGAP Guidelines Development Group evaluated the evidence for psychological first aid and psychological debriefing. In its conclusions, it found that providing psychological first aid was more appropriate and effective than providing psychological debriefing in a crisis context. This is due to the fact that PFA does not necessarily include a discussion of the event or crisis, which can cause great distress for the person who experienced it.
In countries all over the world, various PFA has been incorporated into disaster preparedness. It is also incorporated into first respondent training, as mentioned above. Psychological First Aid plays a vital role in ensuring the calm assistance of those who have experienced a trauma or crisis, and should be continually advocated and practised worldwide.