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The “Oscar” communication model is a key component in the Marine Corps’ “Combat and Operational Stress First Aid” training manual. The guide helps Marines and support professionals provide a timely and preclinical response to stress injured individuals.

Photo by Ameesha Felton

‘Stress First Aid’ course simplifies intervention approach

4 Oct 2013 | Ameesha Felton, Staff Writer

Just as a paramedic’s role of assessing and stabilizing an injured person can prove to be life-saving, a Marine equipped to respond to signs of unhealthy stress could avert a disaster.

That was the idea behind Marine Corps Community Services,’ “Stress First Aid Instructors’ Course,” on Sept. 24, at the Voluntary Education Center aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. Military support members and behavioral health professionals gathered for the three-day training to learn how to administer a timely and preclinical response to someone who is dealing with psychological injuries.

The procedure, dubbed “Stress First Aid,” condenses the Marine Corps’ 137-page “Combat and Operational Stress First Aid” training manual into a more agile and digestible guide. The goal is to teach support officials, who would then disseminate the training to commands on base, so that eventually, every Marine is girded with a “Stress First Aid” kit.

Dr. Richard J. Westphal, a retired Navy captain and professor of psychiatric nursing at University of Virginia, School of Nursing, taught the course. Westphal is also one of COFSA’s primary authors. He said, after providing stress training at Officer Candidates School following the shooting incident earlier this year, Marine and family officials wanted to extend the training to everyone.

“MCCS invited me back in and said, ‘This is a core skill that we need to make sure we have at our fingertips, not at the back of a binder,’” Westphal said.

Since stress is a normal occurrence, Westphal said people need a tool that helps distinguish “red flag” stressors. Participants were shown how to recognize a stress-injured individual, what to say and then how to offer guided options, using the “OSCAR” Communication method, which stands for: observe, state observations, clarify role, ask why and respond.

Westphal said people should actively observe behavior and look for patterns. When someone’s actions or statements indicate impaired or diminished role function, no longer feeling like normal self, excessive guilt, shame or blame, panic, rage, depression or loss of control, that’s a sign of unhealthy stress.

After the course, participants presented a “teach back” session to demonstrate their knowledge of the “Stress First Aid” training. At the end of the workshop, Quantico’s behavioral health and military support staff shared a common goal of collective support.

“[Identifying stress-injured individuals] is not just my responsibility or yours, but we all are responsible for being aware,” said Dayna Boykins, family care behavioral specialist at MCCS. “As mental health becomes more and more of a hot topic in our nation, I want you to keep this in the back of your mind: most people are not going to pick up the telephone and say ’hey, I need some help.’”

Rebecca Childress, prevention and education specialist at the Family Advocacy Program, reiterated the joint call to action.

“Regardless of what position you are in or your rank, you are a leader who has the ability to do something and make a difference that could potentially save someone’s life,” Childress said.

Stress First Aid is designed to preserve life, prevent further harm and promote recovery through intervention. The course teaches that it’s an ongoing process that requires a collaborative team effort. For additional information on the initiative, contact MCCS at 703-784-3007.

Writer: afelton@quanticosentryonline.com