Press Release

Psychological First Aid: Improving Mental Health in Emergencies

In disasters and crises throughout the world, people often struggle with how to cope with what they experienced. For first-responders, there is a similar struggle: how to reach out and support those who are suffering.

Psychological First Aid (PFA) was developed to teach first-responders and other front-line workers how to foster safe, positive, and supportive environments for survivors. Training in PFA gives people a better understanding of common reactions to stressful events, as well as how to listen in a supportive, empathetic way. For parents, there is guidance on how to help children cope, and more generally, when and how to refer someone who is experiencing severe distress. PFA also includes self-care tips for survivors and connects survivors to basic services where they can find psychosocial support.

As a first responder to more than 65 emergencies, International Medical Corps played a key role in developing and implementing the PFA approach. We helped develop the “Psychological First Aid Guide for Field Workers” that was recently released by the World Health Organization and implemented PFA in natural disaster and conflicts around the world, including:

  • After a 7.0-earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the surrounding areas, International Medical Corps developed and distributed guidelines in PFA for health care workers and relief volunteers who poured into Haiti to help. International Medical Corps also trained more than 630 Haitian doctors and nurses in PFA, in addition to other mental health topics.
  • When ethnic clashes rocked Kyrgyzstan in 2010, International Medical Corps surveyed and interviewed 200 people and found the majority to be suffering from psychological issues as a result of the conflict. In response, International Medical Corps trained first responders and volunteers in PFA so that they could identify mental health issues and provide appropriate emotional support and referrals.
  • After a 9.0-earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan in 2011, International Medical Corps trained 85 telephone and face-to-face counselors and 93 front-line workers in PFA. In addition, International Medical Corps also provided training materials and sessions specific to parents, teachers, or other caregivers to enable them to support children’s emotional needs.
  • During Libya’s civil conflict, International Medical Corps focused on training health professionals and front-line workers in PFA in eastern and western Libya and in the refugee camps on the Tunisian-Libya border. Just 120 days after the conflict started, 140 hospital staff were trained in PFA along with 21 teachers and 74 refugee camp staff. These trainings continue today in hospitals, clinics, and other sites throughout Libya.

Given its past successes in improving the care that aid workers can provide to those in crisis, International Medical Corps will continue to broaden the reach of PFA through our global programs and bring this important skill set to emergency responders worldwide.

Help us save lives.