Humans have a natural tendency to direct their attention to those displaying strong reactions and intense emotions, such as distress or panic. Individuals who become apathetic and withdrawn are at risk of being neglected. Unfortunately, these are also the people who have the highest risk for prolonged problems following the incident.

Most people cope with the acute situation and act reasonable. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that they are all affected by the incident and need to be acknowledged.

Acute reactions usually last from a few hours to a day, sometimes longer. These reactions initially protect impacted individuals from facing reality. The reactions will gradually subside as the danger is over and they begin to feel safe. Eventually, affected individuals will begin to understand what has happened and the consequences for their own life.

Psychological first aid requires that personnel:

  • Are calm, secure and caring.
  • Accept reactions and promote predictability and structure.
  • Offer information regularly.
  • Listen actively (but remember, not everyone want to talk!).
  • Pose clarifying questions: What happened next? Dialogue, not interrogation.

The majority of people who experience a crisis will recover without chronic problems. The goal of psychological first aid is to support healing while identifying those who may require long-term follow-up.

Note: Your behaviour is important
Give yourself space to regulate your own emotions so that they don’t get in the way of helping those in need. It is normal for support personnel to themselves be affected when working with crises and they may express this when natural. It is important to be personal, but avoid being private – the one you are trying to help should always be in focus. Put your own oxygen mask on first – then help others!