Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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World Mental Health Day: What is Psychological First Aid?

On Monday, October 10th, we celebrated World Mental Health Day. Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicates a day to raise awareness for the millions of people all over the world who are dealing with mental health issues. As someone who has worked in the mental health field for over 25 years, I can’t begin to express how pleased I am that we now have a day dedicated to mental health awareness, globally. For a large part of my career, mental health issues were often stigmatized and hidden from the world, but as society has progressed, we are now able to more openly discuss these issues.

This year, the WHO chose “Psychological First Aid” as the World Mental Health Day theme. When we think first aid, we often picture either a first aid kit or a first responder like a police officer or firefighter. Psychological first aid is different. Instead of quickly responding to and healing physical injuries, psychological first aid is a practice that involves treating people for psychological damage after traumatic incidents.

Psychological first aid (PFA) is defined as “the evidence-informed approach for assisting people in the aftermath of disaster and terrorism.” PFA occurs when trained individuals quickly assess a person’s mental health after an incident, and can help them remain calm and get them the psychological assistance they need, as opposed to letting them deal with the traumatic event on their own. For example, PFA is often utilized when people in a war-torn nation have been subjected to a violent event. Field workers who specialize in the subject are brought in to help the people who have witnessed the trauma, and have been trained to give them the proper psychological attention they need.

We live in a world where, unfortunately, traumatic events occur. War, natural disasters and violence occur frequently all over the globe. On a smaller scale, accidents can happen in our own communities that leave us mentally shaken.

For example, a recent train derailment in New Jersey resulted in the death of a woman waiting on the platform. This shocking incident would have been traumatic for not only those directly involved, but for anyone connected to the situation. After an event like this occurs, it’s crucial to assess the physical health of all those involved, but neglecting to treat them immediately for psychological trauma can result in long-lasting scars on a person’s mental health.

Say one of your colleagues witnesses a horrific car crash on their way to work. Once they get to the office, they attempt to go about their day, business as usual, instead of processing the intense emotions they feel after witnessing that event. If internalized for too long, this employee might suffer from long-term mental health issues as a result, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. It’s important that HR managers have the knowledge to deal with a situation like this as fast as possible.

Training for psychological first aid is similar to that of physical first aid, in that you need to take a course in order to be properly trained. For those HR managers who have not yet taken the course, here are a few “first-steps” on how you can help someone who has just been through a crisis:

After assessing the environment for safety concerns and familiarizing yourself with the event that has taken place:

  1. Make contact. It’s important that you approach this person respectfully. It’s hard to judge what they might be thinking at that moment, as they will most likely be experiencing shock. As you carefully begin talking to them, let them know you are here to help and will keep them safe.
  1. Ask about needs and concerns. While this may seem obvious in some situations, it’s important to ask what they need at that moment and what their priorities are. If they need to make a call, you can help facilitate that.
  2. This is the most important step of PFA. If the employee is willing to talk, it’s crucial that you listen to what they have to say. Talking about a traumatic event can be difficult but it allows people to feel less alone.
  3. Refer them to your organization’s EAP. They have the tools to handle these kinds of situations, and will be able to assist your employee throughout the healing process.

Traumatic events don’t just impact the people directly involved. If someone in your office has been through a crisis, it can impact the entire workplace. Unfortunately, we live in a world where accidents happen. I’m so pleased that World Mental Health Day has been able to spotlight this necessary training. It’s important that HR managers know the basic principles of PFA, in case they ever need to utilize it in their workplace and help an employee through a difficult situation.

 

 

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Don’t Dismiss the Possibility of Workplace Violence

workplace violenceA mark of feeling safe in your work environment is that you rarely think about safety. A sense of safety and wellness is the ultimate goal for all workplaces and this can only be truly achieved when safety and violence prevention is addressed openly in the workplace. As much as believing that the chances of a violent episode occurring in your workplace are slim to none, indifference can leave you vulnerable and unprepared for an emergency situation.

Just last Wednesday in North York, Ontario, employees of a Toronto-based HR company, were victims of this kind of violent episode when an employee stabbed four people in the office with a weapon while in the process of being terminated from the company. The victims were sent to the hospital with varying degrees of injuries and other employees subdued the aggressor until the authorities arrived.

The perpetrator was described by his coworkers and neighbours as a mild, friendly, and dedicated family man, making this violent outbreak even more unexpected and upsetting. How are employers expected to keep their work environment safe with such a lack of warning signs?

As much as you cannot be prepared for every possible emergency scenario, employers can put measures and tools in place to be prepared for violence in the workplace:

Workplace Violence Prevention Training: Ultimately, you cannot have a productive, high-functioning work environment when employees worry about their own safety, so organizing violence prevention training can arm employees with tools and knowledge in preparation for the possibility  of a workplace emergency situation. Training also brings the topic into the open, where employees can voice concerns and your organization can engage in dialogue and develop mutual expectations understanding about violence in the workplace.

Workplace Violence Protocol: It’s important that organizations give their employees a clear and concise protocol to follow when an emergency situation arises. Without such a protocol in place, some experts are saying this could be considered as negligent as not having fire alarms. Some organizations are adopting easy-to-remember phrases such as: Run, Hide, and (as a last resort) Defend.

Education from your HR department: Your HR department is equipped with helpful information and educational resources for your employees to take advantage of. Open the lines of communication with your personnel and HR to ensure that people have access to the information they want and need.

Awareness of possible crisis situations: Educate yourself about potentially triggering situations, such as termination, review meetings, conflict meetings, etc. and be sure that you are prepared and ready to respond to an emergency situation.

And finally, while it is vital to understand what reactive measures are appropriate responses to violence, being as proactive as possible in your workplace by taking note of changes and cues will keep everyone safer.

Know your People: While people often are able separate their work and personal life, make sure you take care to notice of any changes in performance or behaviour in your employees. Experts generally recognize that workplace violence occurs when troubled employees encounter troubling situations, so remain aware of cues that one of your employees is not doing well, and could be predisposed to a violent outbreak. Take care to treat any concerns or potential threats as serious and follow-up appropriately.

Talking about workplace safety may not be a pleasant topic to discuss in your organization, as everyone wants to believe that no one in his or her vicinity would be capable of an episode of violence. However, being as prepared as you can be for the unexpected will keep as many people safe as possible. And this could mean accessing resources such as your in-house security, local authorities, and, your Employee Assistance Plan, to help develop and support your workplace violence prevention plan, training and protocols.

Has your organization implemented workplace violence prevention training or protocol? Would you know what to do in case of an emergency?

Sources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/chuang-li-former-employee-charged-in-toronto-office-stabbings-1.260397

http://www.timesdispatch.com/workitrichmond/learning-center/labor-law-is-your-workplace-safe/article_92c3ac86-bdf6-11e3-8ab1-001a4bcf6878.html

http://www.workviolenceprevention.com/blog/employee-stabs-hr-managers