Mental Health First Aid

FirstAidBagI recently took a course in Mental Health First Aid. Haven’t heard of it before? Neither had I until I had come across it when looking to sign up for something else. What is Mental Health First Aid and how can it be a benefit in our communities?

Mental Health First Aid originated in Australia and has recently been slowly accumulating in the world of mental health. Although you may find most of your classmates to be social workers or special education teachers it is a free course offered by the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services ( and open to the general public. You can see if a course is offered in your area by checking out the website here:

But what is Mental Health First Aid? Modeled after the physical First Aid most of us are aware of, Mental Health First Aid is designed to provide the first-aider with simple intervention and initial care of a mental health crisis. A mental health crisis can range from panic attacks to psychosis to suicidal ideation. Much like First Aid, it is not intended to diagnose a mental illness, but rather to direct a layperson to appropriate help and reduce the risk of the person coming to harm.

You can put a band-aid on a scraped knee but ebbing the floodtide of an onset mental health crisis can be a lot trickier. This course not only teaches you appropriate responses but may also help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Stop and think how often you may have walked away from a situation because you just didn’t know what to say. How might the situation have played out if you did know what to say or do? Would you be more likely to help someone in a crisis if you were properly trained?

 Important Note: AAES tries not to be biased or opinionated when it comes to these articles (preferring to the usual straight facts only) but because this course is so young we may not agree with some of the steps – however they ARE steps in the right direction. If we don’t agree or if there is an attempt to clarify, the responses will be in bold.

The course teaches three essential points: determine the nature and severity of the situation, determine what service is applicable and how urgently this service must be rendered, and determine appropriate support for recovery after or during care. (Sounds a lot like regular first aid, right?)

Here is the 5-step action plan taught in the course:

  1. Assess for risk of suicide or self-harm
  2. Listen non-judgementally
  3. Give reassurance and information
  4. Encourage appropriate professional help
  5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Which is very similar to the (much simpler) 3P’s and ABC’s first aid action plan:

  1. Preserve life (Airway)
  2. Prevent further harm (Breathing)
  3. Promote recovery (Circulation)

Over the next few postings, we’ll take an in-depth look into each of the five steps and how you can recognize the warning signs of a mental health crisis.

In the meantime, do you:

Have any questions for the webmaster? Contact Ashley Aleksey

Have any questions about the course? Or Where to find a course near you? Check out

Need help now?

For non-medical emergencies call 24/7: 1-888-545-2600 or TTY: 1-888-436-7482

For a delegate hotline: 215-685-6440

For the Suicide and Crisis Intervention Hotline: 215-686-4420

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