Just like traditional first aid, the purpose of psychological first aid is to provide basic care, comfort and support to anyone experiencing stress. However, psychological needs are often not as obvious as injuries like cuts, scrapes and bruises. The BSA Health and Safety guide provides information on how to identify this type of need and what you can possibly do to help. Stay alert to signs of stress in yourself and others.

General Information

All of us experience stress. Family issues, the death of a loved one, natural disasters, trauma, or even exams, arguments, or breakups can be stressful. Individuals respond differently to stress, depending upon our coping mechanisms. Negative symptoms of stress include physical complaints, behavioral changes, or emotional instability. Results may be devastating when people can’t and ways to cope effectively with what happened.

Some symptoms of poor coping strategies include:

  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Not taking care of oneself
  • withdrawal from family, friends and activities
  • Blaming others
  • Overeating or failing to eat
  • Working too much
  • Too much time spent alone
  • Violent reactions or conflict with others

Coping Methods (How to Help)

  • As a caregiver, listen and strive to be kind, calm and compassionate.
  • Respond to basic needs and provide a safe place.
  • Seek professional counseling when necessary.
  • Get adequate rest and eat healthy meals.
  • As much as possible, maintain a normal schedule.
  • Use relaxation methods such as breathing exercises, meditation, listening to soothing music, etc.
  • Encourage positive, distracting activities like Scouting, sports, reading or exercising in moderation.
  • Just as with physical injuries, allow adequate time for healing.
  • Be aware that as a caregiver, you too may encounter increased stress. Be alert to your own needs. Some of the interventions above may apply to you as well.

When You Can’t Help

Stress can sometimes require professional mental health assistance. If a person shows extreme reactions that don’t improve or seem to worsen—and especially if they express a desire or intent to harm themselves or others—you should immediately help them find a qualified caregiver. In addition, professionals may need to intervene if someone cannot be calmed down, has irrational fears, uses poor judgment or cannot sleep.

More Resources: 

  • Psychological First Aid: Helping People in Times of Stress; American National Red Cross, September 2006
  • Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide, 2nd edition; National Child Traumatic Stress Network, National Center for PTSD, 2006
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Madison Austin
studies Public Relations at Brigham Young University and is a marketing specialist at the Utah National Parks Council. She is an avid hiker and enjoys being outdoors. Growing up in the mountainous regions of Colorado and Virginia enabled her to follow these passions. After moving to Utah to attend college, she has spent her time fostering both a career in Communications and a love for Utah's National Parks.

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