First Responders (Trauma Recovery and Support)

6 June 2019

I congratulate Alex Cole-Hamilton on his success in bringing this important debate to the chamber.

A quote that is often repeated in the wake of public tragedy is “Look for the helpers.” It was the late American children’s television host Mr Rogers who said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

Immediately after seeing the scenes that are all too often on the news, such as those around the Grenfell tower disaster or the terror attacks at Tower bridge and the Manchester arena, we need to find comfort in seeing the good in other people; and seeing strangers risk their lives to help those in need is an important part of that.

These days, with the rise of social media, such people can sometimes be applauded and cheered across the globe.

Of course, they should be celebrated—selfless acts of bravery and kindness are often all that we can cling to at times of tragedy—but what happens after that?

The trauma of witnessing such events—whether it is a one-off, as with a terror attack or watching a loved one die, or sustained, as with domestic abuse or active service in the armed forces—can have a long-term negative effect on mental health.

The effects might show immediately or they might not become apparent for some time.

All too often, those effects go hand in hand with other health concerns, such as drug and alcohol misuse, broader mental health conditions and poor wellbeing.

Unresolved trauma and stress can cause psychological harm for many years, regardless of whether they are triggered by a single incident or complex circumstances.

First responders vary, from those who work on the front line—particularly those in the emergency services and in the third sector—to members of the public who step up when they see people in need.

Because waiting times for NHS mental health services are alarmingly high, many people who need psychological help are left wanting, so we are unable to thank the helpers by helping them in return.

As well as that, the NHS is struggling even to help its own staff with mental health.

These people have gone above and beyond the call of duty but, when they need our help, they have to wait months and sometimes years.

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