October 10 is celebrated as World Mental Health Day. The theme for this year is Psychological First Aid.
Psychological First Aid (PFA): It is a humane, supportive and practical response to people suffering exposure to serious stressors and who may need support.
It is an approach to help people recover by responding to their basic needs and showing them concern and care, in a way that respects their wishes, culture, dignity and capabilities.
- giving non-intrusive, practical care and support
- assessing people’s needs and concerns
- helping people address basic needs (food, water)
- listening, but not pressuring, people to talk
- comforting people and helping them to feel calm
- helping people connect to information, services and social support
- protecting people from further harm
PFA is Not:
- NOT something only professionals can do
- NOT professional counselling
- NOT a clinical or psychiatric intervention (although can be part of good clinical care)
- NOT “psychological debriefing”
- NOT asking people to analyze what happened or put time and events in order
- NOT pressuring people to tell you their story, or asking details about how they feel or what happened
Learning the basic principles of psychological first aid will help you to provide support to people who are very distressed, and, importantly, to know what not to say.
Efforts in support of the day will focus on 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.
Despite its name, psychological first aid covers both psychological and social support.
Just like general health care never consists of physical first aid alone, similarly no mental health care system should consist of psychological first aid alone.
The investment in psychological first aid is part of a longer-term effort to ensure that anyone in acute distress due to a crisis is able to receive basic support, and that those who need more than psychological first aid will receive additional advanced support from health, mental health and social services.
Crisis events involving exposure to trauma and sudden loss occur in all communities of the world.
Orientation in psychological first aid gives responders a framework for how to respond in a natural, supportive, practical manner.
A common mistake in current humanitarian responses in many countries is to only make psychological first aid available in the absence of other care.
Psychological first aid is feasible and appropriate during crises and should be complemented with other essential mental health and psychosocial activities.
Link to the WHO media release on World Mental Health Day:
Link to WHO’s flyer on Psychological First Aid:
Link to WHO’s document on World Mental Health Day 2016 explaining PFA:
Link to WHO’s paper on World Mental Health Day 2016:
Link to WHO document ‘Psychological First Aid: Guide for Field Workers’ (several languages):
Link to the accompanying slideshow:
Link to WHO document ‘Psychological First Aid: Facilitator’s Manual for orienting field workers’ (English) [PDF]:
Link to WHO document ‘Psychological First Aid: Facilitator’s Manual for orienting field workers’ (Chinese) [PDF]:
Link to WHO document ‘Psychological First Aid: Facilitator’s Manual for orienting field workers’ (Greek) [PDF]:
Link to WHO document ‘Building Back Better: Sustainable Mental Health Care after Emergencies’ (Full document in English; Executive Summary in several languages):
Link to WHO fact sheet on Mental Health in Emergencies (updated April 2016):
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