Psychological First-Aid: Helping the Stressed/Distressed Individual

March 17, 2021

with Brian Forbes, PhD, R.Psych.
Forbes Psychological Services

According to the Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index, the mental health of Canadians has been declining significantly for several years, and even more so since COVID-19. The stress and distress that we experience is the result of many factors including work, family, finances, parenting, health, and fear about the future, to name a few. Despite our stress and distress, up to 70% of those experiencing some form of mental health issues do not seek help. Rather, they continue to suffer needlessly in silence. Why? Because of the stigma and the fear of how we will be viewed by others if we disclose having a mental health problem.

We all, at one time or another, have known or been aware of someone who is stressed or distressed. At those times, what did you do? Did you avoid them? Or, did you step up? This can be as simple as letting the stressed/distressed individual know that you noticed a change and that you are there if they need to talk. From my perspective, the stigma is not only with the person experiencing mental health issues, but with those who can help, but choose not to. We can all help those in need of support by having the courage to step up and talk, letting them know that someone cares enough to talk and listen. It is important to note that research has shown that acts of kindness and helping others, is an important component in building resiliency. Stepping up to help a friend or a colleague not only helps the stressed/distressed person, but also benefits those helping.

If you have the courage to step up and speak to someone who may be stressed/distressed, then you have taken the first step in providing Psychological First Aid, a non-therapeutic approach to helping someone with mental health issues. An important component of your conversation is supportive listening. Supportive listening has four major characteristics:

  1. Be empathetic. That is, you want to gain a better understanding of how the person is thinking and feeling. Be compassionate.
  2. Be genuine, be yourself.
  3. Be non-judgmental. Do not place the person in a position of living up to your standards.
  4. Be empowering. Offer hope, create calm and help the person help themselves and in doing so help the person obtain the support they may need.

One of the key supports available to Alberta lawyers is provided by the Lawyers’ Assist Professional Counselling service at 1.877.498.6898 or the Lawyers’ Assist Peer Support program at 1.877.737.5508.