Young Lina, 15, disappeared last Saturday, September 23, in Alsace. As with almost every tragedy, a medical-psychological emergency unit (CUMP), also commonly called a psychological unit, was opened. What does it consist of ? Explanations from Hélène Romano, psychologist, doctor in psychopathology and referent for fifteen years at CUMP 94, in Val-de-Marne.
You have surely already heard it on the radio or on TV: when a tragedy occurs, like these days the disappearance of young Lina, it is indicated that a “psychological unit” has been set up. What does this mean in practice and what purpose does it serve?
The psychological unit, a system governed by a decree
“The medico-psychological emergency unit (CUMP) is governed by a decree. They have existed since the Paris attacks in 1995 and were officially put in place in 1997, it is not a new system” first explains Hélène Romano, psychologist, doctor in psychopathology and referent for fifteen years at CUMP 94, in Val-de-Marne.
“There is a CUMP per department, attached to the SAMU and reachable via 15 (from a landline) or 112 (from a mobile phone)” can we actually read on the official government page dedicated to the system. Precisely, the medico-psychological emergency cell is therefore a device triggered by the Samu, following a disaster, an attack or as currently, for the disappearance of Lina.
In which places does it settle?
It all depends on the location of the tragedy, in reality. “In large public places, such as airport terminals, a fabric tent can be set up by the Samu or the Red Cross, in order to provide a designated place for victims, where they can come and talk. But sometimes, this can be in a town hall, a municipal social action center (CCAS). It was in a hospital during the Paris attacks, for example… We adapt each time, while trying to choose a location close to the event with a secure environment, with toilets and segregation. journalists. Then, as the days go by, the pick-up location may change, but it will always have to be premises where people will feel safe.” explains Hélène Romano.
How is the treatment of victims carried out?
The objective of a CUMP is to sort through all the people present during the traumatic event. “There may be many people to take care of, in the event of a student suicide in a high school for example. In this case, we must distinguish between people in a state of overwhelmed stress, who are those who must be taken care of as quickly as possible, and the others, those said to be in a state of adapted stress. adds the psychologist.
How do we identify subjects in a state of overwhelmed stress? “These are the ones who will be paralyzed or on the contrary in a state of panic flight or in a state of automatic driving. These people must be controlled because they can put themselves in danger through their behavior.” she adds. “For others, it will be more about listening, people need to talk, not necessarily about what happened, but about other tragedies, other deaths… They can also cry or scream because “event brings things up in them.”
Be careful “not to psychiatrize normal states”
During many tragedies, a CUMP will therefore be activated, to respond to the psychological needs of people who have been directly or indirectly affected. “But nowadays, there are a lot of demands and unfortunately few trained personnel; the CUMP has become a sort of gadget” denounces Hélène Romano. “When there is a tragedy, it is normal for people to feel bad, sad or afraid. We must not psychiatrize conditions that are normal.” she adds.
In the context of a disappearance, it is the relatives of the missing person who should be concerned by this support. “The parents and loved ones of the missing person require psychological care, because they are grieving, in the sense of human loss, not necessarily death. But the cell will also be able to accommodate people who take part in the hunts, for example, because they can discover a corpse at any time.” further indicates the specialist.
How long does the CUMP stay open? “It all depends on the event, normally a week, until the funeral of the victim(s). But sometimes much more, because it becomes difficult to put an end to it in certain cases. It is then necessary that the relay be taken by appointments in the medical-psychological centers” she concludes.