A Complete Guide to Mental Health First Aid

mental health first aid

Mental health first aid is a training program that educates people of the general public on how to assist someone who is acquiring mental health problems, such as a substance abuse problem, deteriorating a preexisting psychiatric condition, or in a mental health crisis.

Mental health first aid, like conventional first aid, does not train individuals how to cure or diagnose mental or drug abuse disorders. Rather, the program teaches people how to provide first support until professional aid is accessible to the sufferer or the issue is resolved. (1)

High functioning depression, psychosis, substance abuse concerns, eating disorders, high functioning anxiety, and gambling problems can all benefit from mental health first aid at the initial stage.

It can also assist if a person is having depressive thoughts or behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, sometimes known as deliberate self-harm, panic attacks, Post-traumatic stress disorder, severe psychotic states, melancholic depression, severe consequences from alcohol or other drug use, or aggressive behavior.

Mental Health First Aid is proactive as well as preventative. It is a large but straightforward step to take. It motivates people to reduce the stigma that still exists around mental illness. It encourages them to talk more openly and constructively about psychological issues and mental health challenges

History of Mental Health First Aid

Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm introduced the Mental Health First Aid Program in Australia in 2000. This Mental Health First Aid Program has extended to several other nations, including the United States, since its inception. Over 3 million people had already been educated in mental health first aid around the world by 2019. (2)

BMC Psychiatry released the first article in 2002 describing an uncontrolled trial of Mental Health First Aid. Participants in the course adjusted their ideas about therapy to be more like those of health professionals, felt more confident in supporting others, and were ready to assist persons with mental illness, according to the research. (3)

Later in 2004, a Mental Health First Aid course was designed to teach members of the public how to provide immediate assistance in mental health crises and how to support persons who are developing mental health problems. This training was examined in a working context in a randomized controlled study and shown to have several favorable outcomes. (4)

With a variety of courses and strategies, Mental Health First Aid began to advance and dominate in many countries.

Who Can Give Mental Health First Aid?

The Mental Health First Aid is provided by a workplace Mental Health First Aider who is the go-to person for anyone suffering from a mental health problem. This person may need to have a preliminary discussion with a coworker.

Listening is a key skill that Mental Health First Aiders are taught. They have been trained to identify the early indicators of mental illness in others. They are taught to effectively refer someone to appropriate internal and external resources, as well as to deal with situations such as psychosis, suicidal ideation, or attempted suicide.

The first responder will be on hand to assist the distressed person in getting the help they require. They will also be equipped with the necessary knowledge to recognize someone who is developing a mental health problem. As a result, they will be able to get involved before things get out of hand.

Being a Mental Health First Aider does not imply that you are qualified to provide counseling to someone who potentially requires it. They are there to assist an individual and make their professional life easier. It is critical not to pass judgment and to urge them to seek professional help if necessary.

Evaluating the individual is a crucial element of the job; if the person is growing worse and appears to be on the verge of self-harm or suicide, the issue may need to be escalated. Confidentiality is essential in this position, just as it is in physical wellbeing or disciplinary matters within a workplace.

mental health first aid

Courses Involved in Mental Health First Aid

Participants in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses learn how to help individuals with a mental health problem, suffering a worsening of an existing mental health condition, or suffering a mental health crisis until appropriate professional treatment is available or the situation resolves.

Four primary Mental Health First Aid courses educate learners on how to help people in distinct population categories.

Standard Mental Health First Aid

In this course, participants will learn how to use a realistic, evidence-based action plan to aid an adult who may be suffering from a mental health condition or mental health crisis until suitable professional treatment is available or the situation subsides. This course is based on guidelines produced by a group of experts who include people who have lived with mental health issues as well as professionals. (5)

This course teaches participants about the signs and symptoms of common degenerative mental health problems in adults, how to provide preliminary assistance, where and how to get professional counseling, what types of treatments have been demonstrated to be successful in research, and how to provide first aid in a critical situation. It is to note that this is not a psychotherapy or support group; it is an instruction course on how to provide first aid to others. (6)

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Adolescence is a period of significant growth and change. It is also when mental health issues can appear for the first time. Mental health issues are one of the primary reasons for poor grades, troubles with friends and relationship anxiety, and substance use or addiction during high school, and they can have a huge implication. (7)

Youth Mental Health First Aid training can benefit in this situation. This training is for adults who work, live, or care for teenagers, such as teaching staff, school support staff, parents, sports coaches, community group leaders, and youth leaders, with a focus on better mental health literacy and primary prevention. (8)

Adults will learn how to recognize and respond to an adolescent who is having a mental health condition or is in a crisis scenario. Youth MHFA teaches learners how to support a teenager using a practical, evidence-based implementation plan until an appropriate solution is obtained.

Older Person Mental Health First Aid

Any interested adult, especially those who work with, interact with, or care for older people, including relatives and caretakers, can take the Older Person Mental Health First Aid course. Using a realistic, evidence-based improvement plan, you will learn how to support a person aged 65 and up who may be encountering a mental health condition or traumatic event until they seek professional help. (9)

This course will focus on guidelines produced by experts who include people who have lived experience with mental health issues as well as specialists. Participants of this course will get to know about the prevalent and disabling mental health disorders among senior citizens, as well as how to handle them appropriately.

Teen Mental Health First Aid

Individuals with lived experience of mental health difficulties and mental health professionals collaborated to develop parameters for the Teen MHFA course. Participants will learn how to recognize a friend having a mental health problem or crisis scenario, and how to respond appropriately. The Teen MHFA training uses a realistic, evidence-based strategy guide to develop the confidence needed to support a friend until appropriate professional treatment is available or the crisis settles itself. (10)

This course informs youngsters on the various sorts of mental health disorders and potential crises that might occur among young people. Participants will learn how to recognize changes in a friend’s thoughts, emotions, or conduct that may signal the likelihood of a mental health problem, how to provide early mental first aid support, and how to communicate them with a trusted adult. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying and abuse, alcoholism, non-suicidal self-injury, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are among the areas covered in this course.

Significant Components of Mental Health First Aid

Many people acknowledge that their path to mental health rehabilitation has not been a smooth one. There are many ups and downs, as well as fresh discoveries and setbacks. The road to full recovery is lengthy, but with Mental Health First Aid, beneficial adjustments can be made along the way. Anyone in the community can acquire a variety of mental health first aid techniques. A person can learn the risk factors and warning symptoms of many mental illnesses in a typical MHFA Course.

Here are the primary components that one has to incorporate in mental health first aid training to help effectively manage and minimize mental diseases.

Sense of Safety and Trustworthiness

You communicate to the brain’s fight or flight mechanism that the stressful moment is ended by creating a sense of safety. (11) Since a sense of safety is at the foundation of good health and happiness, it is the first thing to build during a mental health first aid training. When a person feels comfortable, it is simpler for them to relax and concentrate on the things that will help them maintain their composure.

The sense of safety can be reinforced by protecting the sufferer from a distressing situation or reassuring them that they are safe. Show them what you have done to make the environment safer, such as repositioning them away from a potentially dangerous line or expressing that the storms have gone and the weather has moderated.


This is critical both before and during the course. Talking and behaving gently can reassure your patient that they are in a safe environment and that they can begin to relax. If you are having trouble calming yourself or your patient, try using simple techniques like taking a deep breath, counting to four, and gently exhaling, and teaching your patient to do the same.

It is difficult to calm someone else if you are not calm yourself, therefore you need to establish your calmness before assisting your patient.

Establish Connections

Connecting with others allows the sufferer to tap into the social resources available to them. You can establish a connection with your patient by creating an on-scene relationship with them.

People who are dealing with mental illnesses might tremendously benefit from knowing that they are not alone in their daily problems, triggers, ups, and downs. Possessing a support system can provide them with new coping strategies as well as emotional acceptance.

Good Listener

The majority of the time, a person with a mental health problem simply wants to be heard without being judged. If you want to support what another person thinks and expresses, pay attention to what they are saying and show concern about their well-being.

Hope and Reassurance

In this context, hope refers to the belief that, despite the current dire circumstances, things will improve. To instill hope, emphasize precise, factual, and optimistic facts about the incident, and describe reasonable and foreseeable next steps.

The cornerstones on which the entire healing framework is formed are hope and reassurance. Communication of a realistic and predictable step toward recovery might help to foster a culture of optimism and reassurance.

With the right professional care, a person suffering from poor mental health will be able to recover more quickly. Patients can be enlightened about the numerous options available to enhance their mental health, such as self-help approaches, medications, or counseling, in addition to being given hope.

Self Confidence

Make your patient an active participant in their rescue to help them develop self-efficacy. Remind your patient of their current abilities, provide them opportunities to care for themselves or support their companions, and include them in clinical decision-making. This aids individuals in overcoming the sense of powerlessness that might accompany a stressful occurrence. They are no longer a victim, but rather a team player.

Although these are not professional mental health interventions, these tools are based on the most recent mental health research and are free to use. Many people find these methods to be so effective that they bring to light their stressors.

Mental Health First Aid during Pandemic

During the present Coronavirus pandemic, Mental Health First Aid plays a critical role. Many people are finding it exceedingly difficult to defend their mental health because of the ongoing unpredictability and sense of powerlessness. Those who have a pre-existing mental health illness are also experiencing an increase in their symptoms. (12)

There may have been an upsurge in the desire for mental health services when employees were furloughed or working from home. (13) Since face-to-face conversations are no longer feasible as they were before, a Mental Health First Aid must be reachable by email, instant chat, phone, or video call.

Businesses that actively promote employee mental health and wellness will not only be able to establish trust but will also be capable of creating a happier working atmosphere. Providing employees with a confidential person to talk to is a fantastic first step toward eliminating the stigma of mental health concerns and fostering a more frank and transparent culture where people are not scared to seek help.

According to studies, many more people would suffer from mental illness as a result of the pandemic. (14) Employers can take the initiative and start addressing the issue. The outbreak has brought the importance of giving Mental Health First Aid to a new level.

Mental Health First Aid for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Suicidal people can benefit immensely from mental health first aid, which can also help them refrain from taking such drastic measures in the future. Interact right away if you discover someone who appears to be on the verge of committing suicide. Do not expect the person’s friends or family to intervene before you do. You could be the only one who notices the caution signals and can help with mental health first aid. (15)

The majority of mental health first aid for suicidal individuals follows a five-step action plan, which includes the following:

  • Examine the possibility of suicide or bodily damage.
  • Listen without passing judgment.
  • Provide reassurance as well as facts.
  • Advocate the use of suitable professional assistance.
  • Encourage self-help and other forms of support.

This five-step approach may not apply in the case of a severe mental health crisis, such as suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Your activities may deviate from the basic plan based on the variables of the situation.

Do not conduct mental health first aid if your physical safety is at risk. If you see the warning symptoms of suicidal ideation in someone and you are not in imminent danger, approach them discreetly to commence mental health first aid for suicide risk. Choose a period when both of you are free and a location that is free of clutter and potential distractions because this might be a life-changing encounter.

Final Thoughts

Mental health first aid training teaches you how to assist someone who is developing a mental health condition or is in the midst of a mental health crisis. You must carefully follow all instructions to carry out the aid effectively, as this can have a significant impact on the lives of others.  (16)

Mental Health First Aid is scientifically proven as a highly effective technique for assisting people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. (17) However, it should be emphasized, that this aid cannot substitute any professional treatment. It should be viewed as only the beginning of the road to recovery.

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