Psychological first aid knowl­edge vi­tal in so­ci­ety

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Health Mat­ters Pas­tor Tawanda Mhere

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@

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