Like CPR for medical emergencies, mental health first aid is immediate support that anyone can offer to someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis, including suicidal thoughts and drug overdose. By learning the basics of mental health first aid, people can better understand a variety of behavioral health conditions like mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse to aid someone who is in crisis.
Mental health first aid courses are held across the country, are open to anyone and are beneficial for everyone. Several of The Recovery Village’s content writers, including managing editor Becky Greiner and digital copywriter Cami Renzoni, have taken this training and are certified in mental health first aid.
What Is Mental Health First Aid?
Mental Health First Aid USA is an effort of the National Council for Behavioral Health and includes eight-hour courses taught by instructors who are certified in this type of first aid. Mental health first aid educates people about:
- The prevalence of mental illnesses, drug addictions and alcohol use disorder
- Risk factors associated with mental health conditions
- The importance of mental illness prevention and early intervention
- How to recognize the signs and symptoms of behavioral health crises
- Supportive and unsupportive behaviors in a mental health crisis
- How to provide immediate support to someone in crisis until professional help arrives
When used appropriately, mental health first aid can help someone regain a sense of calmness, but it is a short-term solution to a complex psychological condition. Mental health crises can manifest from unresolved trauma, untreated mental illness or an undiagnosed drug or alcohol use disorder. First aid cannot substitute for medical attention or mental health counseling, and professional care should be sought as soon as possible after a crisis.
While mental health first aid can be life-saving, it may not be appropriate in some situations. If a person has a deadly weapon and threatens to kill themselves or hurt other people, a first aider should call 911 instead of attempt to provide support.
Why Does Mental Health First Aid Matter?
Quite simply, mental health first aid matters because psychological crises can affect anyone and can end in suicide. Globally, one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds, and 90 percent of people who kill themselves struggle with one or more treatable psychiatric disorders like depression, drug addiction and eating disorders.
With an understanding of mental health first aid, anyone can respond to crises related to these disorders to potentially save a life and encourage someone to seek the professional treatment that they deserve.
Who Can Provide Mental Health First Aid?
Just as anyone can learn CPR basics, everyone can learn how to provide mental health first aid. There is no medical training required to learn this type of first aid, and people of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from understanding how to help someone who’s experiencing a mental health crisis.
Although anyone can benefit from mental health first aid training, it can be particularly useful for professionals whose careers involve regular interactions with people who may be in crisis, such as in the medical or corrections fields.
Mental Health First Aid Action Plan
Mental health first aid involves a five-step plan to effectively help someone who is experiencing any type of mental health crisis, including a panic attack or suicidal thoughts.
Commonly referred to as the mnemonic ALGEE, this action plan requires a first aider to:
- Assess for risk of suicide or bodily harm
- Listen in a nonjudgmental way
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies
This five-step approach can be used to assist someone who’s experiencing a mental health crisis due to a behavioral disorder, like depression or addiction, or an acute crisis related to trauma, self-injury or psychosis.
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Crises Addressed Through Mental Health First Aid
Mental health first aid can be applied to psychiatric emergencies related to mental health disorders and can also aid people who are experiencing a crisis without having a mental illness.
First Aid for Mental Health Disorders
Anyone who struggles with a mental illness may experience a psychological crisis, including suicidal thoughts, at any time. For first aiders, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a variety of mental health disorders so that they can respond to a crisis appropriately.
Using the ALGEE five-step plan, mental health first aiders can respond to crises related to mental illnesses like:
- Depression: including general depression, postpartum depression and seasonal depression.
- Anxiety disorders: including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias and acute stress related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Substance use disorders: including alcohol use disorder and drug use disorders involving legal and illegal drugs like opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, marijuana, sedatives and hallucinogens.
- Eating disorders: including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and eating disorders not otherwise specified
- Psychosis: including drug-induced psychosis, which can occur with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.
With these mental health conditions, first aid can is only a temporary solution. People who struggle with chronic mental illnesses may require comprehensive mental health care and long-term counseling.
First Aid for Mental Health Crises
Mental health first aid can be used to help anyone who is experiencing a crisis, regardless of whether they have a mental health condition.
With training, a mental health first aider can respond appropriately to crises that involve:
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Anxiety Disorders
- Non-suicidal self-injury
- Panic attacks
- Adults affected by traumatic events
- Children affected by traumatic events
- Acute psychosis
- Medical emergency from alcohol abuse
- Aggressive behavior
If you or someone you love is currently experiencing a mental health crisis, immediate help is available. Whether or not you struggle with suicidal thoughts, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors on this line can offer you or a loved one free, confidential support at any time.
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