Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack — even if you have no clinical training — Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health related crisis. In the Mental Health First Aid course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.
Before you can know how to help, you need to know when to help. We call this mental health literacy – or a basic understanding of what different mental illnesses and addictions are, how they can affect a person’s daily life, and what helps individuals experiencing these challenges get well.
You learn about:
Depression and mood disorders
Substance Use disorders
Mental Health First Aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.
The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan
Assess for risk of suicide or harm
When helping a person going through a mental health crisis, it is important to look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, or other harm. Some warning signs of suicide include:
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
Seeking access to means to hurt or kill oneself
Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Withdrawing from family, friends, or society
Appearing agitated or angry
Having a dramatic change in mood
Always seek emergency medical help if the person’s life is in immediate danger. If you have reason to believe someone may be actively suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
It may seem simple, but the ability to listen and have a meaningful conversation requires skill and patience. Listening is critical in helping an individual feel respected, accepted, and understood. Mental Health First Aid teaches you to use a set of verbal and nonverbal skills such as open body posture, comfortable eye contact, and other strategies to engage in appropriate conversation.
Give reassurance and Information
It is important to recognize that mental illnesses and addictions are real, treatable illnesses from which people can and do recover. When talking to someone you believe may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, approach the conversation with respect and dignity and don’t blame the individual for his or her symptoms. Mental Health First Aid provides information and resources you can offer to someone to provide emotional support and practical help.
Encourage appropriate professional help
There are many professionals who can offer help when someone is in crisis or may be experiencing the signs and symptoms of a mental illness or addiction.
Types of Professionals
Doctors (primary care physicians or psychiatrists)
Social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals
Certified peer specialists
Types of Professional Help
Other professional supports
The Mental Health First Aid course provides a variety of local and national resources to connect individuals in need to care.
Encourage self-help and other support strategies
Individuals with mental illness can contribute to their own recovery and wellness through:
Relaxation and meditation
Participating in peer support groups
Self-help books based on cognitive behavioral therapy
Engaging with family, friends, faith, and other social networks
Mental Health First Aid helps you to identify potential sources of support and to practice offering these supports to the person you are helping.
ALGEE, the Mental Health First Aid mascot, and mnemonic for the 5-step action plan
When you take a course, you learn how to apply the Mental Health First Aid action plan in a variety of situations, including when someone is experiencing:
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Acute psychosis (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
Reaction to a traumatic event
The opportunity to practice — through role plays, scenarios, and activities — makes it easier to apply these skills in a real-life situation.
Watch our video of a sample role play scenario that shows some of the techniques learned in the Mental Health First Aid course.
In July 2015, I had the opportunity to take a Mental Health First Aid course at WestCare Nevada. Little did I know that just a few days later I would be using the information and techniques I had learned in the class in a real life situation.”–Rick Denton
Hilda Marie’s worst nightmare was unfolding right before her eyes. Teetering at the edge of the platform was a woman poised to jump in front of an oncoming train. What would you do? For Hilda, there was no question. She turned to the skills she learned in the eight-hour Mental Health First Aid class she completed. ”–Hilda Marie
I recently got dispatched on a psychiatric call...because I took the Mental Health First Aid class, I knew not to take the attitude that she's crazy and was able to keep her calm.”–Sarah L., EMT