Mental First Aid

Some good advice when your colleague has been exposed to a shocking experience:

  • First Aid is two-fold help. This concerns shock as well.
  • Make sure to talk about the experience as to the emotions and thoughts. It will help to ask for details in order to create a picture of the incident. This will help bring order to the mental chaos which has arisen. 
  • Make use of active listening - that is to ask questions which make the stunned one talk and tell. Don't put yourself in focus by talking about events which happend to you. This is not helpful during the state of shock.
  • Respect reactions and make the respect evident. We react in various ways and we should not count on others to react as we ourselves would. 
  • Keep an eye on your colleague. The person concerned may say that he/she is allright and may not wish to talk about the experience. However perhaps all you need is to put a little pressure on: "You don't look well - perhaps we should go talk?"
  • In case the shock triggers to humour it might be a good sign for some time. However be aware that it might be a shield to cover up actual feelings and reluctance to speak about it because it is difficult.
  • It might do well for the person in shock to leave the workplace and thereby get away from it. However you should not let him/her go home to an empty house. He/she should not be alone. However it would do good to go for a walk together. 
  • Offer your help for practical matters . This might imply to get the car home, pick up children, shop for food etc. We are unable to do things during acute crisis situations and we are not capable of coping with practical, everyday matters. 
  • Let your colleague talk to the one(s) which he/she has the most confidence in. Often a certain extent of confidence is needed and the boss is rarely the right one for the job. On the other hand the boss may be good at stepping in when it comes to a staff group and creating an environment to talk nice and quietly to eachother.
  • Some companies have psychologicallyprepared staff which is a good idea. This way you can get to tell in advance who you would like to talk to in case it is necessary one day. The one who the person has the most confidence in usually knows more about the whole life and family situation etc. 
  • A good psychologically prepared staff require that the workplace beforehand has contacts or arrangements in order to act with professional help on acute situations.

 Text: Kurt Balle Jensen
 Written in coorporation with psychologist Lise Skinhøj, Falck Healthcare.