When we look at communities and how they should be kept stable in the wake of disaster, psychological first aid comes to mind.

Each and every context that dots the world is never a fully stable entity. There will always be slight or major inconsistencies that throw geographical spaces off the scale that they have been balancing for years together. These inconsistencies include manmade and natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, problems caused by weather changes such as famines and droughts, as well as more individually focused events such as cases of sexual  and physical abuse that leave an individual physically and/or mentally scarred. The recent stampede at Elphinstone in Mumbai, as well as the large magnitude of floods in the city are exemplary of situations that warrant psychological first aid to those battered and bruised by the consequences.

The 2005 Mumbai floods, as well as the more recent ones that took place in 2017 call for awareness about PFA. Image: Parag Sankhe on Flickr

Image: Parag Sankhe on Flickr

Both stampedes and natural phenomena¬†warrant Psychological First Aid; but what is PFA in the first place? It is very different from a psychological de-briefing, which basically involves a pat-down of an individual’s current psyche. PFA is basically a process that is not intrusive, but merely assistive in the sense that it helps an individual find their bearings in a situation where they are compromised. It involves allowing a person to tell you how they feel in response to a certain event, so you can access their beliefs and problems and try to comfort them.

Very different from ‘classical therapy’ ,one mustn’t force PFA on any individual. While it involves getting people to be comfortable about speaking to an individual about what they’ve been through, forcing sufferers of disasters and compromising situations to speak is not the advised method to be used. It is not okay to administer Psychological First Aid to those who do not feel the need to receive and experience the technique.

Image: National Library of Medicine

Image: National Library of Medicine on Flickr

Providing PFA involves comforting those who have suffered the consequences of a natural disaster, and providing them with information about potential Emergency Services that they can access in order to regain their footing. For example, the Red Cross and other foundations may come to the rescue during disasters like Earthquakes where a large number of individuals are affected. Intimating them about the services to be provided can often help them feel a sense of relief. Along with merely providing information, basic amenities such as water and food can also be provided to disaster victims, along with open ears to hear out what they’ve been through, and some empathy too. Being the shoulder that a troubled individual leans on is what PFA is all about. Those who suffer trauma at the hands of nature or man often need someone to talk to, without realizing it. Providing that closure is often what helps them cope with what they have been through.

 

All of these measures allow these individuals to feel like they are connected to the larger context they have decided to stay a part of, and thus, makes them feel more integrated into the community. When providing such services, one needs to take the notion of cultural sensitivity into consideration. The way one dresses and speaks must reflect a sense of cultural ‘disinterest’ or objectivity in order to reach the psyche of individuals at an equal footing. There isn o need for any background in the psychosocial realm to administer Psychological First Aid, but association with community welfare programs and bodies is advised as compared to functioning as an autonomous provider, since individuals often put themselves at risk by doing so.

Before looking at the well-being of others, we must also watch out for ourselves. The contexts we live in are often disparaged and destroyed by disasters. In these cases, one must always watch out for the safety of their own families before they go out to help other individuals within a context. Even though charity and the search for well-being is meant to be conducted on a macro-level, it always begins at home.