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Voices of Mental Health First Aid: tMHFA Prepared Me to Support My Friends

Mental health is a very important topic that needs to be talked about more often. Mental health challenges are more prevalent in our society now than ever before. In fact, research shows that almost one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness at any given time. 

While I have not faced challenges with my mental healthI want to be equipped to be an ally and friend to people around me who may need support. teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) taught me how to do that. 

Through my tMHFA training, I learned a lot about the frequency of mental health challenges in the U.S. and how to handle a situation if someone opens up to me about struggling with their mental health. I learned the tMHFA Action Plan:  

  1. Look for warning signs. 
  2. Ask how they are. 
  3. Listen up. 
  4. Help them connect with an adult. 
  5. Your friendship is important. 

Look for warning signs.
tMHFA teaches you about the signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge. People with mental health challenges may feel depressed, sad, anxious, or even have thoughts of suicide. 

Ask how they are.
When someone is struggling, they may not want to bring it up. But there is something every single one of us can do to make sure that our friends and family are alrightAsk. The simple act of asking someone if they are OK can help more than you might expect. When you ask your friend or family member how they are doing, you might be surprised that they are open to sharing how they have been feeling.  

Listen up.
When that person is ready and opens up to you about their mental health, it is extremely important to just listen. It is not your job to diagnose them or be a counselorYou can remind them that it’s OK to not be OK, share resources with them and remind them do not have to be afraid to share their feelings. Sometimes, society makes us think we are weak if we struggle with our mental health. Howeverit’s important that people know the truth — that you’re actually very strong to be able to acknowledge and reach out for mental health support. 

Help them connect with an adult, and remember your friendship is important.
When someone around you is struggling with a mental health disorder, it’s most important that you respond as their friend and peer. You shouldn’t diagnose or counsel them on what the right next steps are. Instead, you should provide them with support and reassurance and always contact a trusted adult, whether that is a school guidance counselor, teacher, parent or coach, who can help your friend connect with supports such as a counselor. 

In the tMHFA training, we also learned how to respond when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, like self-harm or suicide. The last thing you want to happen is for a loved one or friend them to harm themselves or die by suicide. That’s why it’s important to know what to do if you think someone around you might be having these thoughts. When confronting someone about this, you should not shy away from asking the hard question: Are they thinking about killing themself? Asking them directly may help the person open up about what’s going on. You can then reassure them that they are not alone and you are there for them, notify a responsible and trusted adult and provide them resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number (800-273-8255 [TALK]).  

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friend and get them the support they need. You may be able to save their life.  

Your school or youth-serving organization can bring teen Mental Health First Aid training to your community. For more information about tMHFA, visit MHFA.org/teens 

teen Mental Health First Aid is run by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and supported by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. 

teen Mental Health First Aider Nathan Harmych is a senior at Amherst Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio.