First Aid for Mental Health

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.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental health first aid (MHFA), like any other type of first aid, is the help given to a person before appropriate professional help or treatment can be obtained.

First aid of any type has the following aims:

  • To preserve life;
  • To prevent deterioration of any injury or illness;
  • To promote healing; and
  • To provide comfort to the person who is ill, injured, or distressed.

MHFA is the help given to someone experiencing a mental health problem before other help can be accessed.

The aims of MHFA are:

  • To preserve life;
  • To provide help to prevent the worsening of an existing condition;
  • To promote the recovery of good mental health;
  • To provide comfort to a person experiencing distress; and
  • To promote understanding of mental health issues.

MHFA does not teach people to be therapists. However, it does train people in:

  • How to ask about suicide;
  • How to recognise the signs of mental health problems or distress;
  • How to provide initial help; and
  • How to guide a person towards appropriate professional help.