Psy­cho­log­i­cal first aid for all

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jhanille Brooks Guest Colum­nist Email feed­back to col­umns @glean­ and jhanille_brooks@hot­

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.


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.


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.

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