The pandemic is affecting everyone so it only seems fitting that everyone is eligible to take disaster-coping training sessions.
Psychological First Aid, which teaches people how to take care of themselves and others, is available from Alberta Health Services through online workshops.
The classes, previously available only to first responders and professionals, have been open to all Albertans since COVID-19 hit in mid-March.
"We are all in this together," said Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, AHS Medical Director of Addiction and Mental Health. "These sessions make people realize it's OK to struggle with stress and uncertainty.
"Even if you don't do anything with it, Psychological First Aid helps show you how trauma can affect all of us," he said.
"This is the first time it has included a broad section of the population — largely because the pandemic affects all of us," said Dr. Mitchell, adding PFA has been used to support first responders during previous disasters like the Fort McMurray fire in 2016.
Between April and July of 2020, more than 1,000 people have participated in PFA sessions, which are available at centres across the province, including the County of Strathcona.
"We hope to enhance the capacity and resiliency in people," said Stephanie Mills, supervisor of walk-in support and occupational health with Strathcona County's Family and Community Services.
"The reason these sessions are so important is that COVID-19 could be a long-term thing. This will affect alot of people," she said, adding, “We all have the natural ability to help create a strength of community.”
The two-hour sessions cover a variety of topics – from taking care of your own mental well being to tips to assisting someone in distress. Participants are presented with real-life scenarios and asked to provide solutions via written responses.
"You build on natural coping skills and learn that stress and anxiety is normal," said Shauna Heatherington, a PFA facilitator for Strathcona County.
Mills said she is encouraged to see staff and professionals from a variety of organizations involved – along with members of the general public. "During our first workshop we even had someone from Ireland who joined in. That shows it is relevant globally."
Mills described a scenario describing how a civilian who has taken PFA could apply it in their lives during COVID-19.
"These folks would be 'unintended bystanders' and they can put into practice many of the pieces they learned in the course in their day to day interactions. Small things like a co-worker checking in on another co-worker because yesterday, in the lunch room, they said they were having trouble sleeping and just feeling off. This course shares knowledge and skills to build confidence and capacity in supporting others and recognizing when more help is needed.”
Mills said the course is crucial because of the knowledge and information participants acquire.
"When we understand what we are experiencing, we can better understand how to help ourselves," she said.
The PFA is based on the World Health Organization model developed decades ago and has emerged as a mainstay for early psychological intervention with survivors of disasters and extreme events.
Mills is confident the PFA sessions are having are having a positive effect.
"By having people taking these classes, there will be a ripple effect in the community," she said.
For more information on classes and to register go to strathcona.ca/pfa
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to AlbertaPrimeTimes.com. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.