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Incorporating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging into Mental Health First Aid

Historically marginalized communities, such as communities of color, face disproportionate challenges around access to and quality of mental health and substance use care. That is why it is crucial to consider how we can continue incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) into our Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) actions. 

To better understand how First Aiders can embody these values, we asked MHFA National Trainers Shirin Bose, Katie Noble and Suzanne L. Pearlman for their expert insight.

  • 1. Shirin Boose, M.E.d, LPCC-S, RYT, suggests adopting a growth mindset to create safe spaces to learn and interact when incorporating DEIB into MHFA. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory defines a growth mindset as the belief that your abilities can be improved upon over time. It’s about taking in new information. 

Think about a time when someone corrected you. Did you get excited, want to learn more and start asking questions? Or did you freeze? Did you get defensive? The goal of having a growth mindset is to detach from the current outcome (e.g., using the wrong pronouns for someone) and focus on the direction in which you’re heading, which is toward increased knowledge and mutual understanding. 

To foster a growth mindset, try to: 

  • • Allow for imperfections.
  • • Receive feedback as a gift! Shirin says, “If you’re lucky enough to have people around you to give you feedback, you’re lucky enough to have people invested in your growth.”
  • • Remember: You might not know something yet, and not knowing everything gives you the freedom to be on a journey.

First Aiders do not diagnose or treat, and are not expected to know everything. Adopting a growth mindset allows us to provide Mental Health First Aid to individuals whose cultural backgrounds are different from our own while knowing there is always room to learn and grow. 

  • 2. Katie Noble, MS, suggests considering the impact of exclusive vs. inclusive language and actions when providing MHFA. Our words carry power, and they affect the people with whom we communicate. Using inclusive language and actions creates opportunities for kindness and curiosity and helps the people we’re with feel like they belong, they are safe and their experiences matter. 

Be mindful when providing Mental Health First Aid to someone you don’t know well. People often use language based on assumptions they don’t even realize they are making, and you may unintentionally make the person feel excluded if they don’t identify with it. Here are a few examples of inclusive language to consider incorporating into your vocabulary: 

      • Say “partner” rather than “husband/wife” or “girlfriend/boyfriend.”
      • Try “caregiver” or “guardian” rather than “mom and dad” or “parents.” 
      • Address a group as “friends,” “folks” or “y’all” rather than “you guys.”

Another important note: If you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns, Katie recommends sharing your pronouns and asking directly which pronouns the individual uses. Another option is to simply address individuals by their name or use gender-neutral pronouns until someone specifically mentions which pronouns they use. Moments of discomfort may occur, but your comfort does not outweigh people’s right to be seen. Try to be open and willing to learn. Check out this blog about person-first language for more on how our words can either break down misconceptions and stereotypes or feed into them. 

  • 3. Suzanne L. Pearlman shares that when invited into communities that we are not a part of, it is important to remember: 
    • It is our job to get informed.
    • It is important to gain an understanding of the present-day impact of historical traumas that have and still do create harm to the community.
    • It is important that we follow and learn from leaders, elders, those with lived experience and those who are of community.

For more information about being a champion for DEIB, check out these related blogs or sign up for a MHFA training today! 


Mental Health First Aid. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA for adults assisting adults. National Council for Behavioral Health.

Pant, B. (2016, May 23). Different cultures see deadlines differently. Harvard Business Review. 

Weir, K. (2021, Jan. 1). There’s a new push to reach underserved communities. American Psychological Association.



Wolcott, M.; McLaughlin, J.; Hann, A.; Miklavec, A.; Dallaghan, G.; Rhoney, D.; & Zomorodi, M. (2020, Sept. 21). A review to characterise and map the growth mindset theory in health professions education. Medical Education.



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