Psychological first aid for all
IMAGINE YOUR five-year-old self falling down and getting a cut. You’re bleeding and in pain. You run to your parents frightened and in need of comfort. A harsh “Stop the crying, you’ll be OK, man, cho!” is what you are met with. Stunned at the abrasive response, you quickly dry your tears as a Band-Aid is roughly placed on the cut.
Imagine that you are walking along the street and trip and fall (you’re a clumsy one, aren’t you?). You break your arm, the bone is sticking out, blood is spurting; it’s quite a mess. You run to the nearest person for help, obviously in pain. Some walk by, others run away in fright. Finally, someone stops, takes a quick look, and says, “You awright, man, stop gwaan suh. Is just a likkle break.” “Just a little break? Don’t you see my bone sticking out?!” you scream.
Finally, you get some help at the local hospital. Because you waited so long for the arm to be attended to, you developed an infection and the arm had to be amputated. Imagine if you had got the proper first aid that you needed before reaching to the hospital, you would still have your arm.
Now, imagine that you have been diagnosed with cancer. You head home to your family and friends to deliver the news and develop an action plan. You sit everyone down in the living room with tear-filled eyes and tell them the diagnosis. Silence and blank stares glare at you. They’re in shock. I’ll give them a minute, you think to yourself.
PROPER RESPONSE TO CRISIS
Suddenly, you hear someone hiss their teeth; “Cancer?! Ah dat you a waste wi time bout?! Snap out of it, man, easy thing to fix. Why all the drama?!”
Proper crisis response and first aid can mean a world of difference in a crucial situation.
The scenarios described above may seem dramatic and unlikely, but they do happen. One sphere where this occurs more frequently is in the area of mental and emotional health. Our peers experience something traumatic; the loss of a loved one, sexual/physical abuse, loss of employment, violence or heartache, and we tell them to ‘snap out of it’. We often see people displaying warning signs – change in mood/behaviour, saying irrational things, displaying violent behaviour – and we turn a blind eye and walk past their broken, blood-gushing arm.
On October 10, we observed World Mental Health Day under the theme ‘Dignity in Mental Health – Psychological First Aid’. This theme centres around 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 or the regular Joe.
Mental and emotional health is part of our entire being, and as such, we can experience issues/challenges in their functioning. So in the same way that I would need quick response in the case of a physical injury, itis the same way that I would need quick response in the case of a mental/emotional challenge.
DO AWAY WITH STIGMA
Anyone of us at any given time can be in need of psychological first aid given life’s circumstances. Likewise, anyone of use can be in a position to render psychological first aid to one of our peers. We must do away with the stigma associated with mental and emotional health. Then we must outfit ourselves with the basic skills necessary to be a first responder to those experiencing mental/emotional/ behavioural challenges.
It is my firm belief that anyone who has a job that involves much interpersonal interaction should have a basic knowledge of the signs of psychological ill health so that they can respond appropriately. Now, I do not mean that a customer service representative must counsel customers who seem to be taking out their anger on them. At the very least, we should be able to identify these issues and choose not to respond, “Nutten nuh wrong wid yuh, stop trying to get attention.”
That kind of response can cause someone to shrink back into their hole of isolation, reluctant to seek help again; we should offer a kind, comforting word instead.
Cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses are diseases that affect persons and their families, and so does mental illness. It’s time that we stop locking people away and speaking shamefully in hushed tones about these issues. Persons living with and affected by mental illness did not choose their lot in life and are not to blame or be put to shame. They cannot exorcise it, dip in healing waters, or simply wish to feel better.