Psychological first aid knowledge vital in society
ZIMBABWE joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Supported by the United Nations, World Mental Health Day is meant to raise public awareness on mental health issues worldwide.
This year’s theme is “Dignity in Mental Health — Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for all”.
One would wonder what is meant by psychological first aid, and imagine that it requires technical expertise to undertake but it is not a new phenomenon.
Psychological first aid is described as an active process of prevention and management of mild psychological conditions applicable to all individuals.
But psychological first aid remains poorly understood globally; it is not universally available and many people do not know that psychological first aid is possible.
In many parts of the world including Zimbabwe, if somebody collapses due to a physical illness such as heart attack or just faints at work, at school or at a stadium or public transport they are likely to get immediate help from someone who knows about physical health first aid.
You may hear someone motioning to others to remove shoes or pour water on someone who has just fainted, whereas if someone has severe anxiety in these same places psychological or mental health first aid is much less likely to be given, at times people actually walk away.
I once witnessed an accident scene along Fife Street in Bulawayo, where a young man had been hit by a motorbike.
People immediately began to administer first aid to the body but the young man was not seriously injured. Some people watched and waited patiently for the ambulance to come, while others simply walked away.
However, the young man was visibly shaken and traumatised by the accident and by-standers were not able to recognise the need for psychological first aid nor did they have necessary knowledge to administer psychological first aid.
I realised that in an ideal world, all first aid training should be for physical and mental health — there, is no need to continue to separate the mind from the body.
People who visit a hospital emergency department for a medical crisis such as chest pain are given immediate care whereas if someone presents to a hospital emergency department with a mental health condition or severe emotional distress, they are not likely to receive the same immediate care.
This happens all over the world, regardless of that country’s economic demographics. This is a sign of discrimination against those with mental health problems — which should not be tolerated.
Mental health crises and distress are viewed differently due to lack of knowledge, stigma and discrimination. It is time it is recognised that there is no health without mental health.
Through this year’s World Mental Health Day theme, the World Federation for Mental Health wants to develop a shared understanding of basic psychological and mental health first aid that will be understood worldwide, by members of the public, professionals, government and non-governmental institutions. The aim is that members of the public can:
Learn how to provide basic psychological and mental health first aid so that they can provide support to distressed individuals in the same way as they do in physical health crisis
Address the stigma associated with mental illhealth so that dignity is promoted and respected
Empower people to take action to promote mental health
Spread understanding of the equal importance of mental and physical health and their integration in care and treatment
To work with individuals and institutions to develop best practice in psychological and mental health first aid
To provide culturally sensitive learning materials to increase the skills of the general public in administering psychological and mental health first aid.
People who suffer from psychological and mental distress, personal crises and mental disorders can benefit from receiving psychological and mental health first aid from professionals and members of the public.
When terrible things happen in our communities, we can extend a helping hand to those who are affected. There is an increase in the number of domestic violence cases; you can reach out to victims.
Perhaps you find yourself at an accident scene where people are hurt or you are a health care worker or teacher talking to a student who has witnessed interparental violence or someone has just lost a loved one — there is need to offer psychological assistance.
According to statistics, every 40 seconds somebody somewhere in the world commits suicide with the young being disproportionately affected. Providing more people with basic psychological and mental health first aid skills will help decrease rates of suicide. Learning psychological first aid will help you provide support to people who are distressed.
A significant number of people in psychological and mental distress are not receiving the help they need. Nobody is immune to psychological or mental health distress and crises. It could be you, your relative, your friend or a colleague.
Psychological and mental health first aid is a skill that you may one day directly benefit from and which may prevent the crisis from getting worse, provide comfort or even preserve life. This skill needs to be supported.
We are all capable of providing physical, psychological and mental health first aid in an emergency — don’t be a by-stander, be a first aider!
Pastor Tawanda Mvere is a Senior Pastor at Balm of Gilead World Ministries and Executive Director of Christian Counselling and Depression Trust. He can be contacted on 0733 207 898/0717 637 160 or via email ccdepressiontrust@ gmail.com