Most of us will know some physical first aid, many of us are qualified first aiders, but too often the psychological effects of a traumatic event – or even everyday emotional stresses and strains - are overlooked. That is why the theme of this year's World Mental Health Day on 10th October is Mental Health First Aid.
Crisis events, which expose people to trauma and sudden loss, can impact on mental health and too often the acute response will focus solely on the physical, overlooking the emotional distress of the survivors. Disaster survivors and those around them will experience a wide range of early reactions – physical, behavioural, psychological. Mental Health First Aid gives responders the guidance they need to respond to people supportively in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, reducing initial distress and helping to decrease the likelihood of long term mental health issues. In recognition of this, the World Health Organisation (WHO), who run the World Mental Health Day each year, have published a guide for field workers which sets out a framework for supporting people in ways that respect their dignity, culture and abilities.
Outside the context of global humanitarian crises, psychological first aid still has an important place. In our day to day lives, people experience personal crises; physical illness, bereavement, abuse, or violence, can all cause stress and result in mental ill health. We want to encourage and empower Londoners to respond with basic psychological and mental health first aid, providing support to distressed individuals in the same way that we would do in a physical health crisis.
To do so we first need to address the stigma associated with talking about mental ill-health, alongside spreading the understanding of the equal importance of mental and physical health and their integration in care and treatment.
This year’s World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to look at how we can use Mental Health First Aid to support the people around us and as a first step we want to encourage everyone to take 10 together.