Philippines pioneering psychological first aid following crisis

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“The psychological damage left in the wake of natural disasters in the Philippines has proven to be as devastating as the physical damage", said Dr Gundo Weiler, WHO Country Representative in the Philippines. “WHO and partners developed a guide on psychological first aid to ensure that standards and best practices are consistently applied in humanitarian settings in order for us to do better for the mental health of disaster affected populations”.

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day covers “psychological first aid”. Efforts in support of the day will focus on basic pragmatic psychological support by people who find themselves in a helping role whether they be health staff, teachers, firemen, community workers, or police officers.

Despite its name, psychological first aid covers both psychological and social support. Just like general health care never consists of physical first aid alone, similarly no mental health care system should consist of psychological first aid alone.

In 2013, following Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), WHO together with the Philippine Department of Health worked with its teams in the provinces of Leyte, Cebu, Capiz, Samar, and Northern Palawan to provide information on psychological first aid to partner organizations, teachers, police and others who can help in extreme life experiences, both man-made and natural, like the typhoon aftermath. To date, most, if not all, of the frontline workers in almost all regions of the country are capable of providing psychosocial support.

“Filipinos, in general, grow up in a caring environment, caring for and being cared of by others. This is where resilience comes from. We have long been practicing psychological first aid even before the term was officially coined. This makes giving of psychological first aid an inherent trait among us.” explained then Assistant Secretary who is now Secretary of Health Dr Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial.