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Mental Health First Aid - Helping Others

  • Synopsis: Published: 2011-10-13 - Mental Health First Aid is a program helping the public to identify understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss.
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Mental Health First Aid is a program that breaks new ground in helping the public to identify, understand, as well as respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.

Mental Health Aid USA is operated and managed by three different national authorities; the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Mental Health First Aid is a course, one that is interactive and twelve-hours long. The course presents an overview of substance use disorders and mental illness and introduces people to the warning signs of mental health problems and risk factors while building their understanding of the impact, as well as presenting overviews of common treatments. People who take the course to certify as Mental Health First Aiders learn a five-step plan of action covering the resources, skills, and knowledge to assist another person who is in crisis to connect with needed peer, professional, social and self-help forms of care.

The Mental Health First Aid USA course has provided benefits to a range of professions and audiences to include:

  • Families
  • Volunteers
  • Young people
  • Faith communities
  • The general public
  • Nursing home staff
  • State policymakers
  • Mental health authorities
  • Primary care professionals
  • Employers and business leaders
  • School personnel and educators
  • State police and corrections officers

You can get involved by finding a twelve-hour Mental Health First Aid course near you, or learn how to become a certified instructor to teach the course in your own community.

A Short History of the Course

Mental Health First Aid was created by Professor Anthony Jorm. Professor Jorm is a respected mental health literacy professor. The course was also created by Betty Kitchener, who is a nurse specializing in health education. The program is supported by the ORYGEN Research Center at the University of Melbourne. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health all worked together with the founders of the program to bring Mental Health First Aid to America.

Mental Health First Aid is strongly evidence based. There have been four detailed studies completed, as well as almost a dozen journal articles published related to Mental Health First Aid's impact on the public. One trial of 301 randomized participants found that people who trained in Mental Health First Aid had an increased level of confidence in providing assistance to others, improved concordance with health professionals in regards to forms of treatments, were more likely to advise people to reach for professional help, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes. The studies also found that Mental Health First Aid improved the mental health of the people who participated.

Mental Health First Aid has been replicated in 14 nations to date:

  • WalesImage of a Mental Health First Aid Australia logo
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Finland
  • England
  • Scotland
  • Cambodia
  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong

In the United States of America, the supporting evidence is greatly valued. America is striving to achieve fidelity to the original Mental Health First Aid program that was developed in Australia. Over the next ten years it is expected that Mental Health First Aid will become as common as physical First Aid or CPR. It has incredible potential to improve mental health literacy, reduce stigma, empower individuals, and many other benefits.

Mental Health First Aid Strategies

The following are Mental Health First Aid strategies that can help a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aid teaches a five-step plan of action referred to as, 'ALGEE,' for people to provide assistance to another person who might be in crisis. The plan of action is presented in these sections:

  • Assess the person for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen to the person non-judgmentally
  • Give the person reassurance and information
  • Encourage the person to reach for appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Assess the Person for Risk of Suicide or Harm

When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it is important to look for signs the person may display of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, as well as any signs of non-suicidal self-injury. There are a number of warning signs of suicide such as:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Seeming angry or agitated
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Dramatic changes in mood or behavior
  • Making threats to harm of kill oneself
  • Behaving recklessly or pursuing risky activities
  • Writing or talking about dying, death, or suicide
  • Looking for access to the means to hurt or kill oneself
  • Withdrawal from participation with friends, family, or society

It is always important to seek emergency medical assistance if a person's life is in immediate danger. If you have reason to believe a person might be actively suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255.

Listen to the person non-judgmentally

Image of a Mental Health First Aid USA logoWhile it might appear to be simple, the ability to listen to a person and have a meaningful conversation requires both patience and skill. It is important to make the person feel accepted, respected, as well as understood. Mental Health First Aid teaches people to use a set of non-verbal and verbal skills to engage another person in an appropriate conversation. These skills include listening strategies, body posture, and comfortable eye contact.

Give the person reassurance and information

It is vital for people to recognize that mental illnesses are real and treatable illnesses that people can and do recover from. When a person has a conversation with another person they believe might be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, it is important to approach that conversation with dignity and respect for the person. It is important not to blame the individual for the symptoms they are experiencing. Mental Health First Aid teaches people useful information and where to find resources they can offer to someone in order to provide consistent emotional support and help that is practical.

Encourage the person to reach for appropriate professional help

There are a number of substance use and mental health professionals who may offer assistance when a person is in crisis or might be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. The Mental Health First Aid course provides people with a variety of national and local resources people can use to help another person if needed.

The types of professionals that can help a person in crisis, or who might be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness include doctors such as primary care physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, mental health professionals, and certified peer specialists. The types of professional help that can assist a person include, 'talk,' therapies, medication, and additional professional supports.

Encourage self-help and other support strategies

There are several ways a person who might be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness can contribute to their own wellness and recovery. The Mental Health First Aid course teaches people these ways. To learn more, please visit the Mental Health First Aid site or take a course in your community.

Mental Health First Aid - www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/

Mental Health First Aid Australia - www.mhfa.com.au/cms/





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