You can be the first responder for psychological first aid

“I was trapped inside a burning building for 45 minutes, the longest 45 minutes of my life. When I was rescued, I was numb, couldn’t react to anything. After a while, a person approached me and asked if I was alright or if I needed anything? I was silent for long time. He waited patiently till I told him about what I experienced. He heard me patiently as I tried to explain him in my garbled speech of how I felt as if I was trapped in a ‘furnace’. Towards the end, he said he was doing his job: salving my emotional wounds.”


Illustration: Jyotsna Salunke

The above narration describes Psychological First Aid (PFA). PFA in simple terms means extending a helping hand to those who are in stress or have recently experienced trauma. PFA entails assessing their basic needs, listening to them and also serving as a bridge between them and various services as well as social support. When one is physically injured, the first line of treatment is giving first aid till appropriate help is provided. There are certain vulnerable people who succumb to stressful situations and require assistance of others. Anyone who can be a sounding board to those in crises, doesn’t pressurise them to speak, makes them feel calm, safe and secure can be a PFA provider.

Every year, rising number of suicides is witnessed and one major cause is stress. From the youngest to the oldest, life threatening situations spares no one. Amongst children, stress could be due to academics or related to discovering self-identity, whereas amongst young adults it could be career and relationships. For adults, it could be mid-life crises and for older people, it could be chronic illness. Stress could be due to anything, the management of stress is tailor-made. However, before a person can get access to professional help, people around him can help him if there is enough awareness about PFA.

How to help?

  • A person who has encountered recent stress/crisis is concerned about his safety than anything else.
  • As a Psychological First Aid provider, one needs ensure that the individual feels safe, is respected and treated as a human being and is made aware of the rights that he can avail in terms of help.
  • One should be honest as well as treat others without any bias or judgement.
  • Making them feel calm, listening to them patiently as they recount the event that is disturbing them and giving them the available factual information can also be of great help.
  • There is a lot to discuss about PFA, but I would like to say that PFA could be considered as a potential topic to be included in school syllabus.
  • Even workshops could be arranged to teach people about the ways and means to provide PFA to those in need.

The author is founder of Mindtemple, finished her MMBS from JJ Group of Hospitals in the year 1985 and has been a practicing consultant and psychiatrist for the past 20 years