Why Mental Health First Aid?

There are many reasons for people to train in mental health first aid (MHFA).

Mental health problems are very common. As many as 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in any year. This means that most people know someone who has personal experience of mental health problems.

Currently, 1 in 20 people have depression. Around 80% of mental health problems are anxiety and depression. General practitioners (GP’s) are likely to diagnose 60% of mental health problems, and 90% of those will be treated by their GP’s. Almost 40% of absences from work are caused by mental health problems. Of all GP appointments, 70% will be patients with depression and anxiety.

Mental illness and distress has been a taboo subject in our society. This taboo is due to the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. In Western countries, people with mental health problems have been ridiculed or treated differently. For this reason, there is often a fear of speaking about such experiences.

Most people know very little about mental health. Good information and understanding about where to get effective help and treatment for mental health problems is invaluable when a crisis occurs, regardless of the setting. Receiving help or treatment early gives people the best possible chance of recovery.

Having people in the community who are comfortable talking about mental health issues, and who offer kindness, support and appropriate information, helps to reduce distress and promote recovery.

Many people are fearful of a diagnosis of a mental health problem, believing that receiving such a diagnosis will ruin their lives. This fear may cause people to hold back from asking for help when they most need it. Fears are kept alive by ignorance and a lack of understanding. Gaining more knowledge about mental health helps to ease fears and encourage recovery.

People from other countries and cultures who live and work in the United Kingdom (UK) may have very different ideas about mental health and find the National Health Service (NHS) and system confusing or difficult to access. For instance, Chinese medicine does not recognise the division between the mind and the body that is common in Western medicine. Therefore, a system that has separate care for mental and physical health may be difficult for a Chinese person to accept or feel confident using. Support that recognises and respects difference can help to bridge cultural differences and encourage understanding.

Professional help is not always immediately available. A ‘mental health first-aider’ can offer comfort and support in a crisis until help arrives.

In some instances, the person experiencing a mental health problem is not aware of the problem. Some illnesses cause the person’s thinking to be affected. In other cases, the person is so distressed that they do not know how to ask for help. Others may be aware that something is wrong, but may feel afraid of judgement or rejection. A mental health first-aider is trained to approach the person, offer assistance and to listen without judgement, enabling the person to say how they feel. The first-aider can then encourage the person to get appropriate help.

Knowing how to respond in a crisis is a key part of MHFA. It gives the first-aider confidence to know that they are offering effective help and not making things worse. MHFA is based on a five-step action plan that can be applied in any situation in which a person is experiencing mental health problems or distress.