The theme for today, World Mental Health Day is, psychological and mental health first aid so I thought I’d do a short blog on this topic.
Everyone is aware of, and many people even attend compulsory training in, physical first aid. We all know what to do if someone has a nose bleed or faints, but what if someone presents as confused, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, having a panic attack or in emotional crisis? Why do we never talk about this?
Psychological first aid is needed in the aftermath of a traumatic or critical event and can be vital for alleviating longer term conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder.
Mental health first aid may be needed for someone who has a mental health condition (either pre-existing or undiagnosed) if they experience a crisis.
Yes, there is extensive training for both types but no training is needed to provide the basic human contact that would provide some relief in each situation. Here are some of the things anyone can provide in a variety of situations:
- Meeting practical needs – this could mean ensuring someone is drinking enough water but could involve ensuring someone’s bills are paid or their pet is fed.
- A listening ear – this does not mean pressurising someone to talk but if they need to or want to, just listen, without judging, jumping to conclusions or providing solutions too quickly. Ask them what you can do to help.
- Ensuring a calm environment – a trauma or crisis situation is likely to involve heightened emotions, these are valid and it’s important not to shut them away or put a lid on them but providing a calm environment will enable the individual to feel calmer in order to express their emotions rationally
- Connecting with others – the person may need to contact next of kin or someone they trust or who knows/understands the situation. It is also likely professionals will need to be involved at some point.
- Protection from physical harm – when mentally unwell someone may behave in uncharacteristic ways. They may need someone to stay with them. Do not be afraid to call the police or for an ambulance if you are unsure.
- What next? – ensure you and the person in need knows that plan even just in the short term.
Always remember to look after yourself in these situations. Just like if you’ve performed basic life support on someone, it can be quite shocking, managing a mental health crisis can be difficult – make sure you talk about it and get the support you need too.
If told you have a condition that manifests in the mind, why do some people take this to mean “you’re making it up/putting it on” or “it doesn’t exist”? And why do they then extend this to mean “you’re malingering deliberately”, “stop pretending” and “there is no pill, you’ll have to just get over it.”
I’ve just watched a video of a lady “fighting for answers” to a syndrome causing a range of distressing symptoms from limb weakness to a change in her speech. She has had numerous tests, scans etc and many doctors have concluded that the origin is psychological. But she’s dissatisfied with this answer, determined there’s something “physical going on”. She said she just wants to get on with her life so I’m wondering why she is spending so much time going from specialist to specialist? They are all giving her the same answer, yet in not accepting the psychological origin, she’s denying herself access to the treatment that could enable her to manage her condition? Why is she (and so many other people) adamant a diagnosis of a psychological condition is dismissing her (their) symptoms in some way?
I find it astonishing that people do not seem aware the brain is the most powerful organ in the body but we know least about it. It is not surprising that it can produce the most bizarre symptoms but we do not yet have the ability to pin point how the brain is producing these symptoms.
If the brain controls our breathing, it follows that things can go wrong with our breathing that are not detectable on x-ray. If our brain controls our digestion and how our intestines moves, it follows that things go wrong with our gut that is not detectable by scans or scopes. I’m left pondering the conscious and unconscious control we have over various aspects of our body. Perhaps when our brain just does something on it’s own, without our say so, this can leave us feeling helpless.
It probably doesn’t help that many psychosomatic conditions (psychological origin for physical symptoms) are a diagnosis of exclusion – i.e. “if we rule everything else out, it’s probably that.”. Are people left feeling the end condition is less valid? If we cannot measure a chemical or see something on a scan, does that mean the legitimacy of the condition is brought into question? This should not be the case. Just because it cannot be detected and the doctors say this, they are not saying it’s not real! Perhaps some people hear the doctor saying “we cannot prove that you are ill”. But, I say, if it is experienced, it is real!
Psychological therapies are not a way of pretending everything is ok, ignoring symptoms or proving the symptoms don’t really exist. We can explore ourselves, our mind and body and find ways of coping, managing and possibly recovering from any range of issues/symptoms/disorders.
Are people afraid of the stigma that comes with psychological conditions? I fear the denial (such as that of the lady I saw in the video) perpetuates that stigma.
I speculate that if we had more compassion and understanding for psychological conditions, a diagnosis of this type would be a hopeful one and people would instead think “my mind is unwell, I need to get help to take care of it and I will be able to control or manage my condition better“. Is our reluctance to take care of our minds because it (managing our thoughts, emotions and behaviours) is harder than popping a pill? Perhaps it would be more helpful if we treated the mind and the body as one, no matter what the condition? Therefore psychological and physical treatments could always go hand in hand (not considering one as more or less important than the other).