News / Health

New WHO Treatment Guide for Mental Health Trauma

Pakistani psychiatrist Mian Iftikhar Hussain talks to a woman who suffers from severe depression after her cousin was killed by a mortar, at a local hospital in Peshawar, July 3, 2012.
Pakistani psychiatrist Mian Iftikhar Hussain talks to a woman who suffers from severe depression after her cousin was killed by a mortar, at a local hospital in Peshawar, July 3, 2012.
Lisa Schlein
New guidelines by the World Health Organization show primary health care workers how to treat patients suffering from trauma and loss.  The guidelines, jointly published with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, also recommend advanced treatments for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

This is the first time the World Health Organization has issued guidelines dealing with the mental health consequences of trauma and loss.  Five years ago, WHO published guidelines for the treatment of mental, neurological and substance use disorders.  They did not tackle problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress and bereavement.

Traumatic events and loss are common in people’s lives.  They can result from experiences such as war, natural disasters, sexual violence, and the death of a loved one.  A WHO study finds an estimated 3.6 percent of the world population suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

This 270-page report is geared toward nurses, doctors and other health workers who do not specialize in mental health disorders. 

Dr. Mark van Ommeren, a scientist in the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said this was important.  He noted very few countries had psychologists and psychiatrists, so non-specialized health care workers were the ones who had to deal with mental problems.  He said primary health care workers can provide a lot of the basic care.

“One of the things they can do after trauma is provide something that is called psychological first aid, which involves listening to people, asking for their needs and concerns, strengthening their social supports and protecting them from further harms - discouraging them from making rash decisions in a moment when something bad happens,” said the scientist. 

Dr. Van Ommeren said basic health workers can provide people with stress management techniques, including breathing exercises for relaxation.  They can help people identify and strengthen positive coping methods and social supports.  He said they can comfort people by explaining their symptoms so they feel less anxious and do not think they are going crazy.

He said the guidelines stressed the importance of psychological care.  Unlike the treatment of other mental health problems, he said medicines played a relatively small role in the care of people suffering from trauma and loss.

“In particular, there is a very popular treatment of benzodiazepines or anti-anxiety drugs, which doctors all around the world like to give to people for sleeping better, for anxiety although they actually are very unhelpful.  So we are making a recommendation against them…We are concerned about their overuse,” he said.

Dr. Van Ommeron said anti-anxiety drugs should not be offered to reduce acute traumatic stress symptoms or sleep problems in the first month after a potentially traumatic event.  He said their use prevented people from confronting their problems head-on, so they were unable to overcome the fear they were experiencing.

The guidelines promote two advanced treatments.  One is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps people think more helpfully about the traumatic event so they stop unduly blaming themselves.  This therapy helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behavior.  It teaches them to behave in less destructive, more positive ways. 

The second advanced treatment is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which WHO says should be considered for people suffering from PTSD.  This treatment does not rely on talk therapy or medications.  It uses patients' own rapid, rhythmic eye movements to lessen the power of emotionally charged post-traumatic events.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid