This guidance has been developed for people who are supporting communities and individuals who have been adversely affected by COVID-19. The purpose of this document is to help you to know the most supportive things to say and do for people who are very distressed. It will also give you information on how to approach conversations safely for yourself and others, and not to cause harm by your actions.
It has been adapted from ‘Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers’ to suit the needs of Londoners in the context of COVID-19, offering guidance on providing humane, supportive and practical help to those struggling with the social and psychological effects of this crisis.
It is designed as a framework to be used by those who provide community-based support to those around them. It is not a clinical toolkit or resource for those working in a mental health or social care setting.
Public Health England (PHE) has launched a Psychological First Aid (PFA) training module, aimed at all frontline and essential workers and volunteers. The course teaches the key principles of giving psychological first aid in emergencies and aims to increase awareness and confidence to provide this support to people affected by COVID-19. The online course will complement the guidance outlined in this resource.
The course is free, and no previous qualifications are required. By the end of the course, outcomes will include: understanding how emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic can affect us, recognising people who may be at increased risk of distress and understanding how to offer practical and emotional support. The course takes around 90 minutes to complete and is also available in three sessions for the learner to complete at their own pace.
Psychosocial support is a humane, supportive response to individuals and communities who are struggling and who may need support.
Although people may need access to help and support for a long time after an event, psychosocial support is aimed at helping people who are currently affected by or have been very recently affected by COVID-19. To protect your health and safety and those around you – always follow the latest government guidance.
To help people in distress feel more safe and secure, understood, respected and cared for appropriately be calm and show
*Even though it may not be possible to be face-to-face with those who need support, it is still possible and important to look for signs and understand their needs
Do’s and don’ts are offered as guidance to avoid causing further harm to the person, to provide the best care possible and to act only in their best interest. Offer help in ways that are most appropriate and comfortable to the people you are supporting. Consider what this ethical guidance means in terms of your cultural context.
The following principles apply to any person or agency involved in responding to COVID-19.
Keep these principles in mind in all of your actions and with all people you encounter, whatever their age, gender or ethnic background. Consider what these principles mean in terms of your cultural context. If you work or volunteer for an organisation, know and follow the code of conduct at all times.
Here are some ethical do’s and don’ts to avoid causing further harm to the person, to provide the best care possible, and to act only in their best interest.
London is one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world. The impact of COVID-19 will be felt by all Londoners, however particular groups and communities will be disproportionately affected due to inequality, exposure to the virus and loss and require additional or bespoke support.
Culture determines how we relate to people, and what is OK and not OK to say and do.
For example, in some cultures it is not customary for a person to share feelings with someone outside of their family. Or it may only be appropriate for women to speak with other women, or perhaps certain ways of dressing or covering one-self are very important. You may find yourself working with people of backgrounds different from your own. As someone providing support, it is important to be aware of your own cultural background and beliefs so you can set aside your own biases.
Offer help in ways that are most appropriate and comfort- able to the people you are supporting.
Each individual and community is unique. Adapt this guide to the context, considering social and cultural norms. See the following questions to consider in providing support in different cultures.
Gender, age and power
Touching and behaviour
Beliefs and religion
All Londoners have been affected by COVID-19, with different types of emergency and crisis response measures taking place. These range from urgent and emergency care, adapted provision of primary and secondary care, temporary accommodation or food distribution. Often it is challenging for those supporting people to know exactly what services are available and where.
Try to be aware of what services and supports may be available so you can share information with people you are helping and tell them how to access practical help.
The best place to start is with the local authority in which the person your are supporting lives. Or alternatively, the Greater London Authority provides updates and guidance on its website.
Whenever possible in responding to COVID-19:
Helping responsibly also means taking care of your own health and wellbeing.
As someone supporting others during COVID-19, you may be affected by what you experience in a crisis situation, or you or your family may be directly affected by the virus.
It is important to pay extra attention to your own wellbeing and be sure that you are physically and emotionally able to help others. Take care of yourself so that you can best care for others. If working in a team, be aware of the wellbeing of those around you as well. See Chapter 4 for more on caring for caregivers.
You or your family may be directly affected by a COVID-19 related crisis. Even if you are not directly involved, you may be affected by what you see or hear while helping. As someone providing psychosocial support, it is important to pay extra attention to your own wellbeing. Take care of yourself, so you can best take care of others.
Consider how you can best get ready to be support others.
A main source of stress for those who provide support are day-to-day stressors. You may be working in a paid or voluntary capacity, doing long hours, with overwhelming responsibilities, with poor communication or management. As a source of support for others, you may feel responsible for people’s safety and care. You may hear stories of other people’s pain and suffering.
All of these experiences can affect you and those around you. Consider how you can best manage your own stress, to support and be supported.
The following suggestions may be helpful in managing your stress:
Taking time for rest and reflection is an important part of ending your helping role.
COVID-19 and needs of people you have met may have been very challenging, and it can be difficult to bear their pain and suffering.