International Medical Corps Provides Psychological First Aid (PFA) Training for First Responders

At-risk populations, including the elderly, can be especially vulnerable during crisis situations. Knowing how and when to provide psychological first aid is key to helping such people remain resilient during and after disasters.

An earthquake in Haiti, an explosion in Beirut, a global pandemic—all too often, emergencies like these dominate the headlines. Images of razed buildings or crying loved ones, accompanied by what can seem like an ever-increasing death toll, highlight the obvious physical devastation these emergencies can cause. But the “invisible wounds”—the effect an emergency have on a survivor’s mental health—can be just as powerful.

Often neglected, mental health conditions pose a major public health challenge. They affect about one in 10 people during their lifetime globally, and are the leading cause of disability around the world.

Survivors of conflict and disasters are at higher risk for psychological distress and mental health conditions. They face overwhelming chaos, uncertainty and, often, the loss of their homes, community, loved ones and livelihoods—while facing such adversity as protection risks and economic strains, which take a toll on well-being. That is why International Medical Corps has for decades been a leading advocate for integrating mental health and psychosocial support into disaster response.

Training first responders on psychological first aid (PFA) is a key way that International Medical Corps’ teams prioritize psychosocial support during humanitarian crises. PFA encompasses a humane, supportive response to someone who is in distress and who may need additional support.

But it is not something that only mental health professionals can provide, says Claire Whitney, International Medical Corps’ Senior Advisor for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. “Just as people can be trained to provide basic first aid, people can be trained to provide psychological first aid,” she explains. “The ability to spot someone struggling in the aftermath of a disaster, and knowing how to get them help, can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.”

This is why International Medical Corps, with the support of its longtime collaborator FedEx, has developed an interactive online training program called “Principles of Psychological First Aid.” This unique, scenario-based course takes first responders—or anyone who wants to know more about how to help someone dealing with difficult emotional issues—through a humanitarian emergency and engages them in decision making on how best to support those affected.

As it walks the learner through the four main principles of PFA—Prepare, Look, Listen and Link—the course also spells out the importance of self-care for first responders and others who are helping people in stressful situations.

This free two-hour course from International Medical Corps will help to increase the number of trained first responders equipped with the skills needed to meet the mental health needs of individuals, families and communities affected by conflict, disaster or disease.

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