Published on September 5th, 2013 | by Joanna Holman

Do You Know What To Do When A Friend Has A Crisis? Learn Mental Health First Aid.

We all know that learning First Aid for common injuries and medical emergencies is a good idea. Thankfully there are many helpful organisations out there reminding people of this and equipping them with the skills they need to save lives.

Not only is there First Aid to know if you encounter someone who is bleeding or has had a heart attack, there is also First Aid for mental health issues. Would you know what to do if you encountered someone experiencing a psychotic episode or if you suspected a friend might be suicidal?

Courses to help with this are being made available in many parts of the world. I took the course in Australia and found it very helpful.

What a mental health first aid course is (and isn’t)

The Mental Health First Aid course doesn’t train you to fix your friends’ problems or make a diagnosis, and it certainly isn’t a substitute for professional help. Like First Aid for physical injuries, Mental Health First Aid is designed to help you spot the signs that something is indeed wrong, prevent the situation from getting unnecessarily worse, and help the sufferer get appropriate help.

The course covers initial responses to some of the more common mental health issues. The Australian version of the course currently covers:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Non-suicidal self-injury/self harm
  • Panic attacks
  • Trauma follow-up
  • Severe psychotic states
  • Severe effects of alcohol and drugs
  • Aggressive behaviours

In some countries, modified versions of the course focus on youth mental health, culturally sensitive approaches for particular groups, or the challenges of applying Mental Health First Aid in certain occupational settings.

Why you might take the course

The course would be particularly useful if you have a job or volunteer role where you are responsible for other people’s wellbeing, such as teaching, nursing, or leading youth.

The course is not just for professionals. It is designed to help everyone assist those they interact with, whatever in a personal or professional context.

Along with many other students, I was sponsored to take the course by my university, which was concerned with creating and maintaining a healthy social environment in on-campus accommodation.

Most striking things I learned

Many people consider it dangerous to ask a person who appears to be experiencing mental distress if they have thought about harming or killing themselves. The fear is that one might give them bad ideas by bringing it up.

The Mental Health First Aid course teaches the opposite. The research says that people who were not considering suicide or self harm will not be pushed in that direction by being gently asked about it. Not only will asking NOT harm someone, it may also also help them; it may be the needed intervention that helps to pull them back from the brink.

Another fact that surprised me at the time is just how common mental health issues are. Some estimates suggest that 45% of Australians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. If you are currently suffering from a mental health crisis, it is easy to feel more alone than you actually are, and if you are not currently suffering, it can be easy to forget what other people deal with.

Mental Health First Aid courses around the world

Mental Health First Aid courses are available in over 20 countries around the world, including:

Mental Health First Aid in Australia
Mental Health First Aid in Canada
Mental Health First Aid in England
Mental Health First Aid in the USA

For a full list of Mental Health First Aid organisations around the world, see Mental Health First Aid International.

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