Panic attacks and panic disorder can have a major impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those who experience them. People with recurrent panic attacks have increased odds of developing a mental disorder and of worsening the course of existing mental disorders. Early intervention efforts at the time that a panic attack occurs might reduce or prevent some of these associated negative outcomes. Expert consensus guidelines for high income Western countries on how to provide mental health first aid for panic attacks were published in 2009. The present study aims to redevelop these guidelines to ensure content reflects current evidence and best practice.
The Delphi consensus method was used to determine which helping strategies should be included in the redeveloped guidelines. A survey with items on how to assist someone who is having a panic attack was developed using the 2009 guidelines and a systematic search of grey and academic literature. Panellists with lived experience and professional experience rated these items to determine which helping statements should be included in the guidelines.
Thirty panellists completed all three surveys. Panellists rated 158 statements, with 83 statements meeting the criteria for inclusion in the redeveloped guidelines. The endorsed statements covered: what the first aider should know about panic attacks, what they should do if they think someone is having a panic attack, what they should do if they are uncertain whether the person is having a panic attack, what they should say and do if they know the person is having a panic attack and what they should do when the panic attack has ended.
This study has resulted in a more comprehensive set of guidelines than the original version, with the endorsement of 83 helping actions, compared to 27 previously. The redeveloped guidelines provide greater detail on recognising the signs of a panic attack, providing initial assistance, communicating with someone experiencing a panic attack and supporting them to seek appropriate professional help if it is needed. The guidelines will be used in future updates of Mental Health First Aid training courses.