Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack — even if you have no clinical training — Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health related crisis. In the Mental Health First Aid course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.
Before you can know how to help, you need to know when to help. We call this mental health literacy – or a basic understanding of what different mental illnesses and addictions are, how they can affect a person’s daily life, and what helps individuals experiencing these challenges get well.
You learn about:
- Depression and mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance Use disorders
Mental Health First Aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.
The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm
- When helping a person going through a mental health crisis, it is important to look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, or other harm. Some warning signs of suicide include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- Seeking access to means to hurt or kill oneself
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
- Feeling hopeless
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from family, friends, or society
- Appearing agitated or angry
- Having a dramatic change in mood
Always seek emergency medical help if the person’s life is in immediate danger. If you have reason to believe someone may be actively suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- It may seem simple, but the ability to listen and have a meaningful conversation requires skill and patience. Listening is critical in helping an individual feel respected, accepted, and understood. Mental Health First Aid teaches you to use a set of verbal and nonverbal skills such as open body posture, comfortable eye contact, and other strategies to engage in appropriate conversation.
- Give reassurance and Information
- It is important to recognize that mental illnesses and addictions are real, treatable illnesses from which people can and do recover. When talking to someone you believe may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, approach the conversation with respect and dignity and don’t blame the individual for his or her symptoms. Mental Health First Aid provides information and resources you can offer to someone to provide emotional support and practical help.
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- There are many professionals who can offer help when someone is in crisis or may be experiencing the signs and symptoms of a mental illness or addiction.
- Types of Professionals
- Doctors (primary care physicians or psychiatrists)
- Social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals
- Certified peer specialists
- Types of Professional Help
- “Talk” therapies
- Other professional supports
The Mental Health First Aid course provides a variety of local and national resources to connect individuals in need to care.
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies
- Individuals with mental illness can contribute to their own recovery and wellness through:
- Relaxation and meditation
- Participating in peer support groups
- Self-help books based on cognitive behavioral therapy
- Engaging with family, friends, faith, and other social networks
Mental Health First Aid helps you to identify potential sources of support and to practice offering these supports to the person you are helping.
ALGEE, the Mental Health First Aid mascot, and mnemonic for the 5-step action plan
When you take a course, you learn how to apply the Mental Health First Aid action plan in a variety of situations, including when someone is experiencing:
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Nonsuicidal self-injury
- Acute psychosis (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
- Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
- Reaction to a traumatic event
The opportunity to practice — through role plays, scenarios, and activities — makes it easier to apply these skills in a real-life situation.
Watch our video of a sample role play scenario that shows some of the techniques learned in the Mental Health First Aid course.