The Ministry of Health of Honduras, with support from PAHO/WHO and in coordination with nongovernmental institutions and organizations involved in the emergency response to Tropical Storm ETA, Hurricane IOTA, and the COVID-19 pandemic, took action to provide psychological first aid to the population affected by these events in Honduras in order to support the mental health response and provide psychosocial support during the emergency.
Psychological first aid is a practical, collective, human response offered to people who are suffering and who may need support. It stresses the importance of reaching out to affected people, listening to them, understanding their needs, and connecting them with practical support and information, bearing safety recommendations in mind to prevent health risks.
A virtual self-learning course on psychological first aid (PFA) was offered in Honduras, accompanied by six virtual sessions to share questions, experiences, and discuss actual cases. A total of 157 people participated in these sessions, most of them mental health professionals, public health workers, and individuals involved in the response. The course strengthened capacities to enable teams of first responders, caregivers, and volunteers to offer initial psychological and social support for the population during crises.
Psychological first aid stresses the importance of LOOKING: i.e., evaluating the situation, who needs support, safety risks and protection, immediate needs, practices, and expected emotional reactions; LISTENING: i.e., starting conversations and actively listening, calming people in distress, asking them about their concerns and needs, and helping them find solutions; and LINKING: i.e., helping them obtain information and connect with loved ones, social support, services, and other assistance.
One of the main priorities highlighted in the virtual sessions was the importance of tending to vulnerable groups in shelters. Experiences were also shared about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in regard to how to handle grief. Finally, emphasis was placed on the need for self-care and for the institutions involved in the emergency response to care for their teams.
After several months of follow-up, the professionals noted the importance of providing PFA, which had helped them identify vulnerable cases for referral to specialized services, thus preventing a deterioration in the mental health of these individuals, while bringing mental health services closer to the population.