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“Psychological First Aid helps avoid complications later”

Emergency Rehabilitation

Mehdi Firouzi supervises Humanity & Inclusion's psychosocial support teams in Syria. He explains the importance of Psychological First Aid after a tragedy like the 6th February earthquake.

Therapeutic activities and exercises to help with releasing emotions

Therapeutic activities and exercises to help with releasing emotions | © K.W Dalati / HI

More than 50 mental health and psychosocial support specialists from Humanity & Inclusion (HI) and our partners, are supporting survivors of the deveasating earthquakes that.

People are now in “survival mode”

"In psychological terms, people are now in a “survival mode”. We provide them with psychological first aid (PFA): these are one-to-one consultations and conversations that the psychosocial workers have with patients, caregivers, relatives of a wounded person – whoever needs it. Such a supportive conversation can take around 30 minutes. The idea is to stabilise the person, to try to calm him or her down."

"This is mostly done by very active listening, by giving them the room, the safety and the time to talk about what they want to talk about, and to give them back the feeling of being in control. During these conversations, we acknowledge their concerns and validate their feelings, which are feelings of distress, of anxiety or maybe anger - after such natural disasters it is not unheard of that some people may express feelings of anger, for example, if the aid response is delayed."

"Many people in North West Syria have expressed feeling abandoned. So, there may be a lot of anger. We also keep an eye on any severe symptoms of distress that some may show. Again, the crisis is still very recent, so a lot of people are still in hyper-alert mode. They're still very anxious. Some of them, for example, are not sleeping these days."

Ensuring their basics needs are met

"Many will be concerned about the safety of their children, and about their future if they have lost their homes. There are still aftershocks in the area. This can be triggering for people who have lived through the earthquake and makes it more difficult for people to feel safe."

"We also try to make sure that their basic needs are met like shelter, food, and clothing. If people have basic needs that aren't met, we try to identify them and link them with existing organisations."

"We conduct these PFA consultations at a multitude of hospitals (emergency wards, inpatient and outpatient departments), health centres and community centres. We have to deal with a large influx of wounded people, some of whom will be mentally or physically scarred for life."

Reducing the risk of psychological complications

"When we talk about people who have just been through the earthquake, it's still very hard to tell how many of them will continue to have anxiety symptoms because it's quite a complex situation. It's reasonable to give some time before saying, OK, this person is showing very severe symptoms and may be at risk of, for example, developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long term."

"However, we know that if survivors of a traumatic incident, such as the earthquake and its aftermath, are given enough time, safety, basic needs (food, shelter, warm clothing, etc.) and social support (through family, community, peers, etc.) they are often able to mentally recover without the need for specialised mental health support. It is therefore important that we facilitate access to these basic needs as best as we can."

The benefits of Psychological First Aid

"Psychological First Aid (PFA) reduces the risk of psychological complications: people who receive PFA are less likely to remain in a protracted state of anxiety. This can help them recover better from the initial shock."

"So PFA is a way to mitigate the risks to a certain extent. It's not a magical tool. It doesn't cure anyone. It doesn't save anyone, but because we focus so much on stabilising someone and encouraging them to think of solutions for themselves to give them back some control over the situation, that in a way reduces the risk of further complications later on. You can see it as the psychological equivalent of putting a blanket on someone and giving them a hot cup of tea after a severe incident has occurred."

Date published: 08/03/23


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