Level 1 refers to information and simple practical and emotional support provided to affected individuals and communities in the days or weeks following a disaster. Most people will only require this level of support. It is what GPs and practice staff often do on a daily basis with their patients who are in distress. Psychological first aid (PFA) for individuals is a well-known example of this, but it can also take the form of support groups, community meetings, and other community development activities.
Level 1 support can often be provided by community members with basic training to assist those experiencing distress and loss immediately following a disaster.
Critical incident stress debriefings and single-session psychological debriefing sessions were previously provided to individuals immediately after a disaster or traumatic event. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse has since stated that this approach is ineffective and in some cases may even be detrimental according to current evidence.11
In the event of an emergency, it is recommended that PFA be employed when appropriate to help people distressed by the impact of an emergency or a disaster.
PFA is an evidence-informed approach used to support those affected by a disaster through the recovery phase. This includes in the initial hours, days and weeks post-disaster. PFA is not to be confused with counselling or debriefing.
Overall, PFA aims to minimise stress and anxiety levels, meet immediate needs, promote flexibility in coping mechanisms and encourage positive adjustment. It is a primary tool used in the immediate post-disaster period for people who require assistance after experiencing a trauma.
The fundamental basis for this intervention is that people adversely affected by disasters will naturally experience a range of emotional, behavioural, psychological and physical reactions following a disaster that may hinder their ability to cope and recover from a disaster.
Note that PFA should not be confused with mental health first aid, which is specifically about managing existing mental health problems and disorders.
PFA can be delivered by anyone with appropriate level of training and those in the practice team who wish to provide extra services to individuals and communities in disaster-affected areas are encouraged to undertake training in PFA. The Australian Red Cross has a list of training providers.
For further information about PFA refer to this section on Australian Psychological Society website.
Figure 1 outlines the five core elements of PFA.
Five elements of psychological first aid
Adapted with permission from the Australian Red Cross and Australian Psychological Society’s Psychological First Aid: An Australian guide to supporting people affected by disaster
. Carlton, Vic: Australian Red Cross, 2013.