Support in need and crisis

Joonas Brandt / Finnish Red Cross
"My first value is based on human rights. All people are equally valuable. My own values are well in sync with the Red Cross’s principles, a central one of which is aiding those in need."
Image: Joonas Brandt / Finnish Red Cross

The director of the preparedness group of psychologists gets energy from seeing people get back on their feet after a crisis that had seemed hopeless.

Psychologist Atte Varis joined the Red Cross’s preparedness group of psychologists in early 2005, only a few days after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in Southeast Asia.
The disaster had taken the lives of 175 Finns, who left behind hundreds of grieving loved ones. During the first days, the crisis team offered acute aid, after which began the recovery process lasting a couple of years.
The survival stories after the tsunami were impressive. Some people had lost all their loved ones.
– Yet in time these people returned to normal life. Such is the circle of life. During the process, it was a joy to see children growing and even new ones being born. It was incredible to see the ability people have of getting back on their feet after a situation that seems insufferable.
After the tsunami, Varis has participated in the crisis relief of the Sello mall shooting in Espoo, the Jokela and Kauhajoki school shootings and the Jämijärvi light aircraft crash, among others.

For major disasters

The preparedness group of psychologists was established under the Finnish Psychological Association in 1993, and it was transferred under the Finnish Red Cross two years later.
The mission of the group consisting of crisis psychologists is to support the authorities’ work in disasters and states of emergency.
In practice, the work consists of planning and organising psycho-social support for the victims of disasters in Finland and their loved ones.

Experience since the MS Estonia disaster

When the decision has been made to alert the preparedness group of psychologists in connection with a disaster, the group gathers these days via WhatsApp to agree on the distribution of tasks.
Today, the group consists of 25 psychologists, who all have strong skills in crisis and trauma psychology.
The group still has psychologists who participated in the group’s first emergency operations when MS Sally Albatross ran aground in the spring of 1994 and when MS Estonia sank in the autumn of the same year.
– That amount of experience is, of course, a huge asset and valuable for our operations. All members of the group are extremely skilled professionals. The group has a good spirit and we respect each other’s work, Varis says.

Aid according to the situation

Atte Varis says that the planning of crisis relief starts with the assessment of the severity of the traumatic event and the time since it happened.
The aid must be rationed correctly. If the person is still in shock, it is not the time for conversation. In the preliminary phase, the victim is offered basic necessities: food, drink, a warm blanket, a safe place. They are also assisted in contacting their loved ones.
When the preliminary shock has subsided, the person is more able to receive psychological help.
– There is no single form of acute crisis relief that could be applied to all situations. Reading individual situations requires experience and strong professional skills, Varis says.
text by Vera Miettinen