Hurricane Survival

Coping emotionally: Psychosocial first aid

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Bermuda Red Cross

By Diane P. Gordon, Disaster Manager

Fear and anxiety in an emergency are natural but controllable emotions. Remaining calm is key in order for you to think and act rationally. Someone may need your help. If you are feeling anxious or frightened, consider the following:

  • Stop what you are doing and take a few slow, deep breaths.
  • Focus on your feelings and thoughts. Talk calmly about them with family or friends.
  • Focus on what practical tasks you and your family can do.
  • Explain to children what is happening and what they may be feeling. Reassure them and let them help, where possible.

After an emergency and when the danger has passed, check if children or neighbours are distressed. Talk to them about their experience. Stress reactions may appear a few hours or days after the critical incident and may last longer depending on the magnitude and intensity of the event. These reactions may be mitigated more quickly with the practice of positive coping strategies and with support and understanding. Most people tend to recover and return to normal functioning within a short period of time, but in some cases the symptoms persist for prolonged periods interfering with home or work life.

Reactions to a crisis event may range from mildly disturbing and temporary, to persistent and disabling. Not everyone will experience a crisis/emergency event in the same way due to differences in perception, personal factors and biology. It is expected that some reactions may be delayed or that old memories and feelings are triggered.

Common signs and symptoms of stress can range from;

  • physical (sleep disturbances, digestive problems, fatigue, headaches, chest pain, high blood pressure);
  • cognitive (confusion, poor judgment, flashbacks);
  • emotional (moody, anxiety, anger, depression);
  • behavioral (alcohol or drug abuse, nervous habits, crying, laughing);
  • spiritual (anger at God or a higher power, temple or faith leader).
  • Be aware that a range of physical and emotional reactions may occur. These are a normal response to the experience. However, should they continue for an extended period, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Several years ago the Bermuda Red Cross identified the need to develop and implement adequate measures to assist in protecting the population of Bermuda from the emotional, physical, social and environmental effects of both natural and man-made disasters.

Bermuda is potentially at risk from numerous hazards ranging from hurricanes, winter storms, storm surge, coastal erosion, landslides, floods, hazardous materials spill, transport accident, fire, power outages, earthquakes, drought and anti-social disturbances.

Volunteers and staff of Bermuda Red Cross as well as the general population are susceptible to suffering from the consequences of a disaster. Response volunteers are also under stress because of their own activities during response and relief phases of disasters. Consequently, Bermuda Red Cross established a community based Psychosocial First Aid (PSFA) support response mechanism and teams to ensure timely response to the general population and responders alike during and after a crisis event.

Currently Bermuda Red Cross has 37 PSFA Responders on hand and they are all certified and current in CPR/First Aid/AED and other relevant training modules required. The PSFA Responders are able to assist community members and volunteer responders who may experience high stress during and after a critical incident. They will endeavor to enhance overall psychological health of the community and volunteer responders as deemed necessary; reduce the impact of traumatic events on community members and responders and work to accelerate recovery from exposure to stressful incidents.

For further information regarding psychosocial training, give us a call on 236-8253 extension 231 or email [email protected].

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