Coronavirus Advisory: First aid for mental health in the time of COVID-19, sponsored by Ochsner Baton Rouge

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When you hit the road for a weekend trip with a car full of family and friends, you prepare for the bumps and bruises that are inevitable with any outdoor adventure. Bandages, antiseptic wipes, tweezers for tick bites and extra bottles of water are a few simple items that can go a long way. When facing a more unpleasant and unforeseen obstacle, like a pandemic, how do you begin to prepare?

Psychological First Aid or PFA is a term first used by mental health experts after World War II in reference to a set of techniques to bolster mental resilience in the face of difficult events. Since WWII, it has been applied in a number of ways to help people restore and maintain strength during and after illness and tragedy. After Hurricane Katrina, PFA was crucial in guiding the people of New Orleans to unite and survive an impossible circumstance.

Now is the time to arm yourself with PFA. Just as you would pack your truck with emergency items before a road trip, taking the time to load your brain with the mental skills needed to help yourself and your community will be essential for the ride through COVID-19.

Ready for the cool part? You do not have to be a trained professional to use Psychological First Aid. In fact, researchers have found that using techniques like RAPID, a method of PFA introduced by Johns Hopkins University, in everyday encounters during natural disasters like the pandemic we are facing has a greater impact on the public than formal therapy. So, let’s get started today!

R is for Reflective Listening. When you are 6 feet from someone picking up a drive-through meal or on the phone with a relative, take a moment to hear what they are saying to you. Let them know you are present by eye contact or a few simple words of understanding.

A is for Assessment. Do not fear, this is not the type of assessment you take for a grade. Nor is it an evaluation by someone with years of training. Simply, observe and decide what you or the person next to you might need. Have you missed hours of sleep lately? Would you benefit from taking some extra time to recharge your body? Have you noticed your mom has been texting three times her normal amount? Maybe it’s time to reach out and see what is on her mind.

P is for Prioritization. Your to-do list for March was ages long. Now, facing April with a stay-at-home order and schedule changes might seem unbearable. Sit down, decide what is most important and let the rest fall away for a moment. Remember, we are facing a pandemic. These are not normal circumstances and they will not last forever.

I is for Intervention. Think of intervention as “action.” What is it that you can do for yourself? What about for your family and friends? Co-workers? Everyone is dealing with COVID-19 in unique ways. Get creative about safe and useful ways to lighten the load.

D is for Disposition. Check in with yourself and others often. Do you have the support you need today to keep going and land safely at tomorrow? Is someone you have tried to help through PFA still struggling? When needed, get help. Take comfort in knowing family and friends are going through similar circumstances. Health care workers and government officials are taking steps each day to guide the community safely toward the other side of COVID-19.

RAPID is a quick way to strengthen your well-being amidst the obstacles of COVID-19. When you have a spare moment and a bit of extra mental energy, run through its five parts. Just like a first aid kit on a road trip, Psychological First Aid may be exactly what you need when you least expect.

You can schedule a virtual visit with a licensed therapist through Ochsner Anywhere Care.