First Aid For The Psyche

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First Aid For The Psyche
First Aid For The Psyche
Video: First Aid For The Psyche
Video: How to give psychological first aid 2023, February

Providing first aid in psychosocial crises

First aid may not only be necessary in medical emergencies, but also in psychosocial (psychological) or psychiatric crises. Because these can also have serious consequences. If you feel that someone needs help, don't hesitate to speak to him / her. An honest offer to talk to is usually helpful.

In addition, a conversation model from emergency psychology offers guidelines for orientation for first aid. However, be aware of your limits as well. You may also need to organize professional help.


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  • Advice, downloads & tools
  • How do I recognize a psychosocial crisis?
  • Features of a psychosocial crisis
  • What is the difference between a psychosocial crisis and a psychiatric crisis?
  • What can the first aider do?
  • Where can I find advice?

How do I recognize a psychosocial crisis?

Mental wounds may not be as visible as those on the body, but they are often no less painful. By acting promptly, many secondary diseases (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorders, depression) or dangerous situations (e.g. suicide, acts of violence) can be avoided.

A psychosocial crisis is triggered by external stressful events and / or changed living conditions, which those affected cannot cope with with their usual problem-solving strategies at the moment. As a result, they have difficulties coping with their professional and social lives. The stresses also sometimes show up after a triggering event.

Features of a psychosocial crisis

The following characteristics indicate a psychosocial crisis:

  • a stressful external event
  • strong feelings of fear, anger, despair, and sadness
  • strong fluctuations in mood
  • Announcement of behavior that is harmful to oneself or others (e.g. suicide)
  • Withdrawal from social contacts or isolation
  • Listlessness
  • Disinterest
  • Aggression, unusual irritability
  • Loss of control over one's actions

Sometimes it is difficult to establish contact with those affected despite great need. In conversation, these people seem rather absent and sometimes display unusual behavior. This is an alarm signal and a sign that rapid professional help is needed.

You can find the characteristics of a suicide risk on the Austrian suicide prevention portal. With these signs, prompt professional support is extremely important!

What is the difference between a psychosocial crisis and a psychiatric crisis?

Mental crises are to be distinguished from psychiatric crises or emergencies. A psychiatric emergency is usually based on an acute mental illness (e.g. drug abuse, schizophrenia) or an acute physical condition that leads to psychiatric symptoms (e.g. cerebral hemorrhage).

In the event of a psychiatric emergency, there is often a danger to life (e.g. in the case of acute suicidal thoughts or escalating violence). Or. the acute worsening of a disease may lead to irreversible consequences. Therefore, in the event of a psychiatric emergency, rapid medical help is essential! Call the ambulance or, in the case of acute danger to safety, also the police.

The psychological symptoms include disorders of the consciousness (e.g. no reaction to speaking when staring), hallucinations and delusions or uncontrolled (aggressive) behavior.

For more information, see Emergency: Psychiatric Crisis.

What can the first aider do?

If you feel that someone needs help: do not hesitate to speak to him / her. An honest offer to talk to is almost always helpful. You can start with the straightforward question, "How are you?" Those affected should be given the space to speak for themselves. If those affected can speak openly and honestly about problems and feelings, it is usually very relieving. On the other hand, ready-made solutions are usually not very helpful.

Sometimes the offer of help can also be rejected. In very few cases this applies to you personally. It is possible that the person concerned is only able to talk about the problems later and then comes back to your offer.

Orientation towards the BASIC model

The BASIC model, which comes from emergency psychology, offers a good orientation for first aiders:

  • B is for Build Relationship. An appreciative attitude and a real interest in the person can create a trusting atmosphere.
  • A stands for recognition. That means an acceptance of the event, the "look reality in the eye" and accept the given. Even if it is hard. It can be difficult and does not have to - even should - be glossed over.
  • S stands for structure. People in crises need support. Most of the time, they find themselves unable to plan the next steps or struggle through the jungle of offers of help. As a lay helper, you can take the first steps, e.g. contact a crisis intervention center or an emergency telephone number. You can also help by making clear statements.
  • I stands for information. Discuss the next steps with the person concerned and address the associated fears and worries. It is possible that in severe stressful situations there will be reactions that those affected consider unusual and worrying (e.g. repeated images of terrifying events).
  • S stands for social. The environment should be included. Who can help, who supports? It is best to get support from trusted people, provided they are able to do so and those affected can accept it. What professional help is possible in the next few days? People in exceptional situations need security and security. In addition, they should not be left alone.

Evaluations (eg: “It's not that bad”) and simple “tips” (eg: “Pull yourself together”) should be avoided. Assumptions instead of facts usually do not help. If the helper is very close to the person affected, it is often not easy to help. Because you are usually very busy with your own feelings and thoughts due to the proximity. Professional helpers bring the often necessary distance and competent further education with them to help further. Crisis intervention aims to help people in a crisis to find a way out and to cope with everyday life again.

Take care of yourself

As with other forms of first aid, the following applies: first pay attention to your own protection. Because you can only help other people well if you feel safe yourself. You should also look to your own strength. What can and do you want to expect? Also, pay attention to your own feelings and needs.

If you find yourself unable to help, ask other people for support. If you have the impression that you are endangering yourself or others (acute suicidal thoughts, violence), call the ambulance or the police.

Note As part of a mental crisis, thoughts of suicide can also arise. Are you thinking of suicide, worried about someone or have you lost someone to a suicidal death? On the Austrian suicide prevention portal you will find first aid tips, emergency contacts and offers of help in your federal state as well as further information on how to deal with this emergency situation.

Where can I find advice?

The following institutions or professional helpers offer support:

  • On the website of the Vienna Crisis Intervention Center, you will find helpful contact points throughout Austria and telephone numbers.
  • Psychotherapist
  • Doctors with advanced training in psychotherapeutic medicine or psychiatrists. Our doctor search can be helpful here.
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Outpatient departments for psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy

Are you interested in a course in psychological first aid or would you like to volunteer in this field? The Red Cross, for example, repeatedly offers courses in this regard. You can also find more information and tips on this topic on the First Aid for the Soul website from pro mente Austria.

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