Mental Health First Aid: What Is It and When Is It Used

You have undoubtedly heard of first aid life-saving and life-sustaining measures. You may even have taken a CPR training course to learn these basic interventions to help injured people. But what happens when the injury isn’t physical? 

People with mental illnesses like psychosis, bipolar disorder, or other common mental health challenges suffer just as much. Still, it can be harder to figure out what to do when the trauma is not as apparent. This has added to the stigma of mental illness, with caregivers not knowing what to do about invisible disorders.

That is where mental health first aid (MHFA) comes in. There are times when rescuing is needed, but how to help is not performing CPR, knowing the signs of a heart attack, or splinting a broken bone. Mental health first aid teaches you how to identify those in distress and identify the symptoms of a mental health concern in order to help those showing signs of anxiety or depression, prevent suicide or other crisis situations, and more. 

There are just a handful of lessons to learn to become a certified mental health first aider. Understanding the risk factors of mental illness, the importance of early intervention, and having concrete tools to help those in need can be vital in assisting others’ mental wellbeing.

The more people who are aware of the need for mental health services, unique risk factors, the symptoms of mental illness, and what to do, the more we can work together as a community to get well. There needs to be an increase in the number of everyday mental health first responders, and a mental health first aid course is the perfect opportunity to become a trained citizen. In as short as one day, you can become a valuable asset to any group that you are present in and have the ability to change lives when otherwise that may not occur.

Getting Started With Mental Health First Aid

Mental health first aid is likely something you have never heard of before. People who are trained in mental health first aid grow their knowledge of the signs of mental illness and substance abuse/substance use disorder. With this knowledge, they’ll know how to respond to those signs. Warning signs and risk factors for mental health illnesses as well as an overview of common treatments. 

Through different role-playing simulations, participants are taught scenarios like overviews of crisis assessment, interventions, and providing the first help by connecting the person in crisis to appropriate professional help and proper treatment and social support groups and self-help resources.

By teaching common scenarios, the likelihood of illnesses, and how to help, more people can be recognized as needing help. This first step of identifying the need for mental health care is vital to starting people in crisis on a path to recovery. In contrast, without help, they may decline, and concerns of substance abuse or suicide rise. Listening to a person’s needs and knowing how to respond is key to changing the situation for the person in crisis, and that is exactly what you will learn in a mental health first aid course.

Why You Should Learn Mental Health First Aid

As always, but especially with mental health – knowledge is power. You should know mental health first aid because first aiders could help change lives through early detection and intervention. People trained in mental health first aid know the signs and symptoms of specific illnesses and learn how to best proceed with the person experiencing them. Not only can you help someone at the moment to cope, but you can also set them up for long-term success.

Absolutely anyone can make a difference in someone’s life by simply knowing how to respond to their needs, and the more people who are trained to do so, the more people will ultimately be helped. You learn to assess the risk of suicide or self-harm, listen without judgment, reassure and inform the person in crisis, and encourage them to get professional, individual help and know their support resources. It is really that simple, as being understanding and encouraging with some basic knowledge of common mental illness concerns.

Mental Health Advocacy

Far too many people who need mental health help are not even aware of the resources out there that are available to them. By knowing mental health first aid, you become an advocate for these resources and will help connect people to these solutions. By informing a person in crisis that there is help available to them, their world can change. Whatever obstacles have stood in their way of getting help in the past can be deconstructed, and you can show them what sort of help they have on their side.

By being there for these people, you can help them feel less hopeless while getting them on track with resources that work for them. Sometimes people just need some guidance, and you can be the one to provide it with this training.

*It is important to note that mental health first aid training does not qualify those certified as acting professionals. The key to this role is to identify people who need help and figure out how to connect them to professionals and other resources. While you will learn the signs and symptoms of a handful of specific mental illnesses, you are not taught to diagnose them.

When To Use It

Once you are trained in mental health first aid, you might be wondering when you should actually use it. There are various audiences in which your Mental Health First Aid skills can come in handy, from helping family members with mental health problems to youth mental health first aid for teens and young people. 

There is no right or wrong time to speak up when you notice a risk factor. Identifying those early signs and getting people set up with help as soon as possible is vital for their well-being. Use your assessment skills learned from the first aid class to determine when a situation needs your attention.

If you are a teacher and notice symptoms in a student, it would be a good idea to bring it up with school staff and the child’s guardians. First aid training can help grade school and university staff understand the difference between the signs of mental illness and typical adolescent development using the available evidence. 

Business leaders or those who work with other peers in a team or office setting may notice that something is standing out to them about an individual, which is another opportunity to use your skills to determine how to proceed. Faith community leaders can also use these skills within their faith communities, acting as guidance and social support. 

For corrections officers who work with inmates and other law enforcement officers or public safety officials, it is a great idea to have this training as well. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, one corrections officer said, “I wish every corrections officer would receive Mental Health First Aid training. I believe that our corrections system would be better because of it – the inmates would benefit, the officers would benefit, and ultimately our communities would benefit.”

And more obviously, if you see someone acting out in a crisis, abusing substances, or threatening self-harm, it is absolutely necessary to get involved. Not every case will be as clear as someone behaving in these specific ways, but you will recognize so many signs beyond these once trained. It is crucial to remember the signs of the mental illnesses you will be taught about since that can help you determine which resources to connect the person in crisis with.

Putting Mental Health First Aid To Good Use

With the skills learned from a mental health first aid course, you should feel just as confident as someone trained in physical first aid. If they saw someone with a wound, they would not hesitate to help. You should feel the same once confident in your understanding of common mental illnesses and what to look out for. 

Noticing when someone needs your help is the first piece of mental health first aid, and from there, listen to their needs and connect them with a professional provider to take over from there. Other resources you can offer are information to support groups, as well as self-help books and programs. 

The difference you could make in your family, workplace, social group, and community is enormous, and all you need is one day. In this 8-hour course, you will finish equipped with the knowledge and resources to provide a listening ear and encouragement towards proper professional mental health care that people in crisis so desperately need. 

Trainees will learn how to devise a 5-step action plan, receive an overview of mental illness, and discover online tools that can help. They will develop an understanding of their impact within their communities. 

If you want to learn more about what you can do for your mental health and others, Mood Health has mental health resources to help guide you along the way.



Why Mental Health First Aid | National Council

Mental Health First Aid | MHConn

Mental Health First Aid Training | Mental Health First Aid.org

Has Changed the Way We Do Our Job – Mental Health First Aid.org