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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs