Is your outgoing friend, keeping to his room lately? Did you notice a student of yours crying on the back seat? Is your teenaged child having mood swings?
Parents, teachers and friends must keep a lookout for any signs of emotional turmoil and provide psychological first-aid and seek help from professionals, if necessary.
What is psychological first aid?
The World Health Organisation defines psychological first aid as a humane, supportive response to the suffering of a fellow human being – a friend, neighbour or your own children.
“Listening is the most important thing. One must listen to people in distress patiently, without prodding them to say more than they want to or passing judgement. If a parent or a teacher is providing support, there is bound to be some inter-generational differences, but these need to be set aside,” said Dr Desai.
It is also important to take what they say seriously.
“The problems of adolescents may feel trivial, but it is not so from their point of view. In fact, we have seen that in most cases people tell someone –friends, siblings or parents – about their intent to commit suicide. If taken seriously, a tragedy can be prevented,” said Dr MS Bhatia, head of the department of psychiatry at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital.
Dr Desai terms psychological first aid as the safety valve of a pressure cooker. “We build steam in a pressure cooker to cook food faster with less fuel. That is our society today, we want more from less. Psychological first aid is like the safety valve – if it’s not there, the cooker will burst,” he said.
A simple act like making time for adolescents can go a long way. “With both parents working, children might not be able to spend quality time talking to them and expressing their feelings. This may drive them towards the virtual world to reach out to someone they can confide in, or, they might turn towards alcohol and cigarettes, leading to addiction of one kind or the other,” said Dr Desai.
Signs to look out for
Mood changes, changes in the appetite and sleep patterns, addiction of any kind, falling grades and extreme social isolation are certain things that people might look out for.
“Anyone close to the person in need of psychological first aid will be able to notice drastic changes in their routine – not sleeping on time, skipping meals, not going out etc. Everyone skips a meal or pulls an all-nighter once in a while, but if the pattern continues, the family must approach a professional,” said Dr Rajesh Goyal, consultant of psychiatry at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
When to seek professional help?
Things that must prompt the person providing psychological support to reach out to a professional – suicidal thoughts, sustained impairment despite the support and violent behaviour or indication of violent behaviour.
“A first aid provider must recognise when it is not working and call in someone. Reach out if the person is not interested in listening to what you have to say and is not even making eye contact when you speak. While counselling also look for unnecessary movement of limbs, chewing of nails or extremely slow movement – if these don’t go, contact a psychiatrist or a trained psychologist,” said Dr Goyal.
Do not breach the trust of a person you are providing psychological help to, if you have to call in someone, follow these steps. “One, the first aid provider must tell the person that they are worried and would like to call in a teacher, a counsellor and parents. Two, seek permission to call in the third party. If they do not agree, step three should be to let them know that you cannot handle it and would tell someone. And, then call in a third person to help you out,” said Dr Desai.
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