Volunteers trained to pick up hidden signs of distress

Volunteers trained to pick up hidden signs of distress
A simulated terrorist attack held during Teck Ghee’s Emergency Preparedness Day on March 19, 2017. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

Volunteers trained to pick up hidden signs of distress

SINGAPORE — When crisis strikes, some people might exhibit behaviour or say things that suggest they are in distress. But what they do not say may also be equally important, said Dr Majeed Khader, chief psychologist at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Knowing how to pick out these hidden signs are part of the psychological first-aid skills grassroots volunteers in Human Emergency Assistance and Response Teams (Heart), announced on Sunday (March 19), will be trained in.

“It’s very much like medical first aid in the sense that the assistance you give will be immediate ... Basically you’re looking at those who might need help, because they are affected by various things, to look at people who might be distressed, look out for people who have been affected but do not show symptoms,” said Dr Majeed.

As part of enhancements to the SG Secure movement, all 89 constituencies here will train volunteers to render psychological first aid, under the guidance of psychologists and counsellors from the Home Team, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Institute of Mental Health.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the first such training workshop held at Cheng San Community Club on March 12, Dr Majeed said volunteers will learn to sharpen their observational skills, as well as how to practise active listening, so that they can identify when someone is affected by a crisis, even if they are not saying so. These responders will also know which professional agencies to link affected individuals with.

Dr Majeed noted that some people who have experienced a terror attack could show signs of depression and post-traumatic stress reactions. Those affected psychologically and emotionally could also form a group called the “walking worried”, he added. 

“This means (there will be) a lot of anxiety. People hear about it, they read about it, they watch it on television, they see it on social media, so there is this general sense of unease and emotional distress and hospitals, helplines will get overwhelmed,” he said.

Heart volunteers will be deployed immediately after a crisis but Dr Majeed noted that this does not just mean they “must find the clever words to say”. “A lot of what we are doing in psychological first-aid training is ... showing support by being there,” he added.

During the five-hour training session two Sundays ago, 60 participants were presented with different scenarios where they could apply what they were taught. 

These include observing how an anxious resident was behaving after she was told that her family members were missing in the aftermath of an explosion. 

One of the participants, lawyer K Sathinathan, 53, said the training provided a structured programme to what the grassroots volunteers have been doing informally, such as how they would try to talk to neighbours to clear any misunderstandings when there is an incident.

With the training, the volunteers now know how to react and what to say to a family facing a personal crisis, said Mr Sathinathan, who is also the chairman of the Hwi Yoh Community Centre Management Committee.

Other volunteers include IT engineer David Lau, 42, and his 17-year-old daughter Joanne. 

Having witnessed various incidents, such as a suicide case in his neighbourhood, Mr Lau said his family has attended other emergency trainings, such as for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, to avoid being caught off-guard in such situations. 

“It’s good to get trained and be prepared to do these things, so it will not be too shocking to handle,” he added.