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First Aid for Panic Attack

If You or Someone You Know is in Crisis and Needs Immediate Help

Call 988, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or 911

How to Tell Whether a Young Person is Having a Panic Attack

Having a Panic Attack can be very scary. Clinical symptoms are very similar to myocardial infarction (AKA heart attack). Therefore, it would be worse for someone who has a history of heart conditions and is having a panic attack. A panic attack is a distinct episode of high anxiety accompanied by fear or discomfort that develops suddenly and reaches its peak within 10 minutes. During the episode, the following signs and symptoms may be present: 

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or rapid heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling and shaking

  • Shortness of breath and/or feelings of choking or smothering

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Abdominal distress or nausea

  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint or unsteady

  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself

  • Fears of losing control or going crazy

  • Fear of dying

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Chills or hot flashes

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

If anyone is having any of the above symptoms, you should only suspect that they are having a panic attack. If anyone is experiencing any highlighted symptoms from the above list (especially, difficulty in breathing), having any cardiac or pulmonary medical history or loss/decrease consciousness, call 911 immediately at the beginning of episode. 

How to Assist:

You should approach the individual calmly, introduce yourself, ask the person whether they need help. 

If they do consent your help, you should ask the person wether they knows what is happening and whether they have ever had a panic attack before; Also, previous major medical condition is also useful information to obtain at first. Ask them whether they require medical assistance but remember to be wary of symptoms mentioned above. If you are uncomfortable, always remember it is better to reach out to 911 to ensure that both you and the person are given the appropriate care. 

Sometimes, due to hyperventilation or difficulty breathing, it is very hard for the individual to talk or express/describe the symptoms specially for someone who is experiencing this for the first time. Remember to not get agitated, it is ok for them to not answer your questions. Ask your question slowly and give them enough time to respond. Try not to ask multiple questions at once.

If the person is not in the sitting position, you should support the person into a sitting position which will help them with breathing. Check for any medical tags or alerts, if there is one, follow the instruction on the tag. If they are in any form of respiratory distress, please do not administrate any liquid or food. 

To help calm a young person who is having a panic attack.

  • Reassure the person that they are experiencing a panic attack.

  • Remain calm.

  • Speak to the person in a reassuring but firm manner.

  • Be patient.

  • Speak clearly and slowly, and use short sentences.

  • Invite the person to sit down somewhere comfortable.

  • Maintain a comfortable distance from the youth.

  • Ask the person directly what they think might help rather than making assumptions about what they need.

  • Do not belittle the person's experience.

  • Acknowledge that the terror feels very real, but reassure the person that a panic attack, although very frightening, is not life threatening or dangerous.

  • Reassure the young person that they are safe and that the symptoms will pass.

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

Here is another technique that have been proven very useful: 

                                                   Image is from Lindner Center HOPE Twitter 

After the episode, you should advice the individual that panic attack is likely to be recurrent, an appropriate metal health professionals can help to reduce the chance of a recurrent episode. 

psyc 375 breathing 1.jpeg
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