Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-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.
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
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).
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
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.
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:
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
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.
Mental Health First Aid training has taught the officer to ask his charges, “What happened?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?””–Officer Orlando Singleton
So many people are out there wishing for something better, hoping that help will show up. That’s what Mental Health First Aid is – it is help to get people connected to care and ultimately to get them to a better place.”–Tousha Paxton-Barnes, U.S. Army Veteran
As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was being an adolescent. When we see a kid who is just miserable at school, we might think they choose to be that way – or that it’s just part of adolescence. But in fact, they might be in a mental health crisis, one they certainly did not choose and do not want.
When a teacher says “how can I be helpful,” that is a powerful question. ”–Alyssa Fruchtenicht, School-Based Mental Health Counselor