NEMO teams up with MOH and PAHO to offer Psychological First Aid training

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

First responders to disasters are generally trained in the skill of First Aid. As such, it is not often that the mental wellbeing of disaster survivors is taken into consideration. However, this is an aspect that many times is neglected and may lead to post traumatic disorder. National Emergency Management Organization NEMO San Pedro, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization PAHO and the Ministry of Health MOH, on Tuesday November 6th held the first of its kind to equip emergency first responders with the tools necessary to deal with the mental wellbeing of disaster survivors. The training was held at the Fido’s Court yard and saw the participation of individuals from various organizations on the island including; the San Pedro Town Council, Belize Coast Guard, Ministry of Education, San Pedro Roman Catholic School, Dr. Otto Rodriguez PolyClinic II, GST Office, Red Cross and the Ministry of Health among others.
Dr. Claudina Elrington Calletano; Psychiatrist with the MOH, Clinical advisor for the Mental Health program within the MOH and a presenter spoke of the training. “What we’re doing is training on what we call Psychological First Aid PFA. This is basically training for people who we consider the first responders during a disaster, the first ones who would be there to provide support. Whenever there is a disaster, we tend to focus more on the physical aspect of the individuals and many times disregard their mental wellbeing. But we need to start focusing on the fact that your mental health is important. You need to be able to make better decisions to be able to cope with the consequence of the disaster. Your mental health plays a big role.”
The training stresses on three basic responses; listen, look and link; “The idea is for someone to be able to understand these situations, to be able to reassure the individual, to be able to work with the individual – so that they can make better decisions in what ever they need. The importance here is to assess the basic needs. “We try to see if they understand the three basic principles LLL –Listen, Look and Link. Listen to what has happened, look to assess the situation and where immediate assistance is not possible; link the individual with proper resources to provide assistance. At the end of the day we want people to leave comfortable that they have the capacity to help others during a disaster. With these three basic tools we believe that people will be comfortable to handle situations. “
Other than that, the attendees were also introduced to similar situations that occur around the world and in terms of disaster and more importantly that people can leave the room understanding the value of mental health and how valuable that is. The participants were also briefed on the Mental Health Program being offered by MOH and how they can access these services.
Participant, Phillip Ramsey of the Belize Red Cross thought the training was more than helpful. “Entering into the training, I didn’t know that there was a psychological part of first aid. This part of First Aid teaches me how to deal with the psychological part of disasters. I think that the most important thing I took from this training is to now look at the individual that is not physically injured but who may be mentally affected by the disaster. This will definitely be a major asset added to my previous knowledge in first aid.”
In ending Dr. Calletano welcomed the opportunity to work with people in San Pedro. “I’m glad about the turnout. Even though it is important and it makes sense – a lot of people are somewhat hesitant to get involved with this training due to the stigma and discrimination that is associated with psychology or the possibility of a mental disorder. But I’m proud of the San Pedro community that came out. With this, I am hopeful that I can come back and do other trainings and people will be receptive. I am very much interested in doing training with the police officers on working with understanding mental health. I’d also like to work with the health center as well so in terms of having the doctors integrate mental health into their practice. So there’s a lot that we can do here in San Pedro.”
According to training coordinator and District Emergency Coordinator for NEMO, Miss Jeromey Timrose with the success of this training, while it was the first, this will certainly not be the last.

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