Mental health first aid (MHFA) is the first step in helping a person experiencing a mental health crisis, and is intended to be used until other help arrives.
Just like physical first aid, the first aim of MHFA is to preserve life.
Evidence shows that many people experiencing a mental health crisis have thoughts of suicide, and some people act on these thoughts. This is why asking about suicide is the first step in offering help.
The current model of MHFA is known by the five-step acronym A.L.G.E.E.
Step 1: Ask About Suicide
This does not mean that you should ask everyone you meet about suicide, regardless of their situation.
What it does mean is that when you suspect that a person may be having suicidal thoughts, because of their level of pain or distress, or because of their situation, or even because you have a gut feeling that they may be considering suicide, you should ask them.
This may seem very challenging and difficult to begin with, but the MHFA course covers the skills and practice that will make this step feel more natural.
Once we are sure that the person is not in immediate danger we can put the next step into practice.
Step 2: Listen and Communicate Non-Judgmentally
People who are feeling distressed or experiencing mental health problems can feel that no one is able to listen to them, or to accept their feelings without judging them as weak or inferior.
Being able to listen to the person, and offering them the simple human kindness of the time to talk about how they feel, can help them realise that they are not alone.
Step 3: Give Reassurance and Information
This is not about offering advice or solving the person’s problems. It is about reassuring them that there is effective help available and that there are things we can do immediately to help the situation.
Step 4: Encourage the Person to get Professional Help
This is essential to their recovery.
Help may be in the form of their general practitioner (GP), other support groups, or therapy.
The help they need will depend on the type of problem(s) they are experiencing.
The MHFA course provides you with the information on where different types of help can be found quickly.
Step 5: Encourage Self-Help Strategies
When a person is experiencing mental health problems, there are things that can be done in the short-term to alleviate their distress.
Similarly, when treatment is underway there are often things a person can do to help recovery.