Every disaster is a learning point. And, we human beings, as a species, developed and survived following this learning curve. We have a lot to learn from this worst flood that has hit Kerala in a century. It would be derogatory to simply mention that Kerala survived the flood. Actually, the people of Kerala have exemplified themselves before the entire world. The way we dealt with the most unexpected disaster, the way the entire population, irrespective of all the caste, creed, and religion and political parties rendered unparalleled selfless service to save their fellow human beings. The state government, with its strong willpower, fought the wrath of the nature. This type of coordinated altruistic service would be so unique in the entire nation. Those affected remained calm waiting for help. The youth of Kerala got into rescue and relief action, just out of their intrinsic motivation. The service rendered by the fisherman community is beyond words.
Aristotle once said the road to Logos and rational action is often paved through Pathos. We must sometimes bear witness to someone's distress, before they are ready to receive objective assistance.
The rescue has been done, what remains is relief and rehabilitation. When a disaster hits a person or community, following the physical rescue, the survivors should be given psychological first aid. This is the emotional support we extend for the victims or survivors.
What is psychological first aid?
Psychological first aid is a programme designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping skills. It is a technique designed to give emotional support to survivors, finding if they need support and thereby preventing the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One should never assume that all the survivors would develop distress. Instead, it is a way to find out whether disaster survivors and others affected by such events are experiencing any of the broad range of early reactions like physical, psychological or behavioural distress. This evidence-informed modular approach for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of disaster, accidents, deaths of near ones, terminal diseases etc try to reduce the initial distress and to foster short and long-term adaptive functioning.
Mental health and other disaster response workers may be called upon to provide Psychological First Aid in general population shelters, special needs shelters, field hospitals and medical triage areas and acute care facilities.
Kerala and psychological first aid
In Kerala, there are a lot of people engaged in counselling. While I appreciate their efforts to help people, a trained and qualified psychologist like this writer can only be against people taking up counselling without proper qualification and training. But these people can function as Psychological First Aid Volunteers. We need to set up psychological first aid volunteer units in major universities and colleges running Social Work and Psychology programmes. This writer took a programme on Psychological First Aid from the Johns Hopkins University and I extend my help to any volunteers who would like to start a unit of Psychological First Aid.
(The author is a behavioural psychologist and a cyber psychology consultant)