Celebration of World Mental Health Day: Dignity in Mental Health - Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for All

mental health

Washington D.C., 7 October 2016 (PAHO).- World Mental Health Day is observed every October 10th with the overall objective of raising awareness about mental health issues around the world, and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health promotion and care. This year's theme is "Psychological First Aid", and as part of the activities to mark the day, the Mental Health and Substance Use Unit of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) organized a virtual seminar on what actions those in a position to help can take when providing support to people in crisis.

Representatives from the Ministry of Health of Ecuador, Chile, Jamaica and from PAHO/WHO Department of Health Emergencies presented their experiences and lessons learned from their response to emergency and disaster situations implementing Psychological First Aid.

Dr. Dévora Kestel, PAHO/WHO Mental Health and Substance Use Unit Chief, opened the seminar emphasizing the need to make psychological first aid available during emergencies and disaster situations. Dr. Carmen Martínez, PAHO/WHO Mental Health Advisor for Central America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean, based in Panama, introduced the fundamentals of "Psychological First Aid" as a response to emergencies and disasters.

Country experiences began with the presentation of Ms. Mercedes Allauca, from the Ministry of Public Health in Ecuador, who described the mental health response to their 16th earthquake. She was followed by Dr. Maureen Irons Morgan, Director of the Jamaican Mental Health Program, who discussed how they incorporated Psychological First Aid into Jamaica's emergencies and disasters' response mechanism as a way to enhance health services. Ms. Paz Anguita, Department of Risk Management in Emergencies and Disasters, and Dr. Mauricio Gómez, Department of Mental Health, both from the Ministry of Health in Chile, shared their experiences and efforts to provide mental health support in the latest events in their country.

Finally, Dr. Alex Camacho from PAHO/WHO Department of Health Emergencies concluded with a presentation that focused on challenges for disaster risk management and the effectiveness of Psychological First Aid as an intervention tool in the response and recovery from disasters.