Mental Health First Aid Could Provide
Needed Lifelines In Our Community
Text: Tiffany Hall, MFT
Programs like Mental Health First Aid aim to demystify the stigma of mental illness, and equip its participants with the skills to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) was developed by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm after Kitchener realized that her own family did not understand how to deal with her depression. After years of development and practice in Kitchener and Jorm’s native Australia, the program was adopted in the United States in 2008 by the National Council for Behavioral Health, and in 2013 President Obama also included Mental Health First Aid in his plan to reduce gun violence.
The program is offered in sessions by instructors who specialize in training various audiences: youth, adults, people who live and work in rural areas, veterans, and military families. The core of the program is a five-point action plan participants learn to use to prevent a crisis or help someone who is already experiencing one. See Fig. 1 ▼
The program educates those who have not been formally trained as mental health professionals to understand what mental illness looks like and the next steps to take when it’s found. Most training sessions are a day or two long and can be found in schools, churches, and community centers. They are often low-cost or even free in some areas, but the cost of MHFA instructor training cost is much higher. This makes the program accessible to several communities and income levels.
While MHFA aims to educate the public about mental illness, it is not designed to be a substitute for treatment with a mental health professional. Part of the action plan of the program urges people to seek out other supports for long-term care.
For more information about Mental Health First Aid or to find out about training in your area, visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org.
A- assess for risk of suicide or harm
L- listen non-judgmentally
G- give reassurance and information
E- encourage appropriate professional help
E- encourage self-help and other support strategies