As the world moves to single-person homes and online-everything practices that ignore physical communities, more people are concerned about their mental health. For many, this environment is increasingly anxious and lonely. One thing we can do to look after others around us is know how to care for their mental health needs, giving, if you like, mental health first aid.
The global environment is such that anger is on the rise, and often it can seem that empathy is in decline. Broadly speaking, we are ever-more seeing the psychological stress that comes from a feeling of lack of control, especially with the economic threats of instability and uncertainty.
In this article, we'll look at the concept of mental health first aid in a little more depth. We'll also give you the information you need to train in mental health first aid to best support people around you suffering from ill mental health.
These mental health problems rank second and seventh, respectively, in the global disease burden. Amongst the top twenty diseases, five are mental illnesses. Worldwide, an estimated 700 million people have a mental disorder.
Other related conditions, such as eating disorders and suffering from an emotional crisis, are also on the rise and can exhibit themselves as risk factors for more acute mental health conditions.
Inequality continues to increase year after year. And increasing pressures relating to our climate crisis also mean that mental health problems are rising. Other health problems, such as substance abuse or issues at home and concerns related to family members, can further lead to or exacerbate mental health problems. Paying attention to mental health and other health concerns is higher on the agenda – and more urgent – than ever before.
The rise of mental health issues is a complex issue. And not one that we can solve overnight. Poor mental health can have a knock-on effect on many other things – including work, family, friendships, resilience, and willingness to change. But there is something many people can do.
One thing that an individual can do to help combat the epidemic of mental ill-health is to train as a mental health first aider.
Related: Our compilation of mental health quotes shares commentary and experiences of people suffering from, and working with mental health to help you further relate to those experiencing ill mental health.
A mental health first aider is a member of the general public who undertakes a simple training program to help you gain the knowledge to help those suffering from a mental health crisis. You don't need to be an expert or have medical training to become a mental health first aider. Anyone can learn how to offer initial support for those developing or experiencing a worsening mental health crisis.
Like traditional first aid, mental health first aid is not about treating or diagnosing conditions. Instead, it is about offering that first stage of support for mental illness until they can receive appropriate professional help, engage with mental health services, or the crisis resolves.
A mental health first aid training course helps people recognize a mental health problem, provide support, and know where to turn for treatment and/or services.
Related: Our mental health language guide is a useful follow on read to this article, covering why the choice of our words matters when talking about mental health, and guidelines as to what to use and when.
Research into mental health first aid training has shown that it improves knowledge, confidence, attitudes, and helping behavior. Undertaking such a training program can allow you to play your part in helping those with mental health issues. And can also help to spread and disseminate knowledge and understanding of mental health problems throughout the wider populace.
Whereas we may know how to respond to someone having a heart attack, undertaking CPR and calling 911, what would we do if we were close to someone having a panic attack? Or were concerned about the substance use leading to concerns about their state of mind?
Other more common conditions, such as mood swings and sadness, both symptoms of depression, can lead to a crisis if not supported through wellness. Over 8% of people suffer a major depressive order in any given year in the US3. Many more experience more minor symptoms. Depression can lead to more acute conditions and even suicide. When support is provided early, the chance of preventing conditions from worsening increases.
Being alert to mental health issues means members of the public who undergo this training can recognize when someone needs help. And assist someone in getting appropriate professional help. Mental health first aiders reduce the risk of someone coming to harm during a mental health crisis.
As a mental health first aider, you can also help to reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues. And join the conversation to help the public understand the experiences of others.
Becoming a mental health first aider does not require a lifestyle switch. You do not need to dedicate several hours of your week to practicing what you've learned. You should carry on life as usual after your training. The essence of this training is to have trained people in different environments - schools, workspaces, government offices, at the train stop. People who can identify, help, reassure and support a person in distress.
If every community can have a handful of people trained to offer mental health first aid when needed, we could improve the overall quality of life in those communities.
It is also important to understand how combating mental well-being issues can have a positive knock-on effect on other sectors of society. And help us to tackle many of the other problems and inequalities we face on a global scale.
In 2000, Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm, both Australian mental health educators, developed the mental health first aid program1. Since then, over the past couple of decades, the program has since spread to several other countries around the world.
By 2019, over 3 million people had trained as mental health first aiders around the globe. And many more are interested in increasing that number and joining the ranks of those who can give appropriate first responses to mental health issues.
To train as a mental health first aider, the first step is to find the body running the training where you live. The body running the training and the exact training on offer vary depending on where you live or reside currently.
Look for evidence-based programs that providers will include as part of their materials or on their website. These programs are backed by research to support their effectiveness.
Canada: Participants receive Mental Health First Aid training under the leadership of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Find more information on training in Canada here.
United States: In 2014, Congress appropriated $15 million to SAMHSA to train teachers and school personnel in Youth Mental Health First Aid. In 2015, the government created an additional $15 million fund to support other community organizations serving youth. The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015 authorized more spending for mental health first aid training. Several different bodies, including Mental Health First Aid USA, run by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, offer training in many different states.
There is also training being run in Bermuda.
The UK: In England, the Department of Health's - Mental Health Frist Aid (MHFA) runs a variety of mental health first aid training courses. MHFA courses are also available in Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland's NHS also runs mental health first aid training there.
EU: Across the EU, several further licensed bodies deliver mental health first aid training. In Denmark, Finland, France, Germany (website coming soon), Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Australia: Mental Health First Aid International runs training programs across Australia. Mental Health First Aid training programs in Australia have won several awards. By 2015, 2% of the adult population had received training of this kind.
New Zealand: You can find information on training in New Zealand here.
Asia: Across Asia, mental first aid training courses are being run in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, and Pakistan.
There are also current programs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
If you live in a country or region where they do not provide mental health first aid training, you can license the Australian program. It is available for use wherever you may live.
The creators and regulators of mental health first aid courses base them on a series of guidelines. These have been developed through consultation with experts, including those who have lived through mental health problems and mental health professionals. The guidelines cover best practice first aid and cover a range of mental health problems and crises in different contexts.
Though each individual is different, they design the training to be suitable to deliver mental health first aid in high-income, developed countries with well-developed healthcare systems. They teach participants practical skills, and the topics covered include how to spot the triggers, warning signs, and symptoms of mental health issues and render initial help.
Role-playing assisting someone experiencing a mental health issue forms an important aspect of the training.
You can find more information on these guidelines here.
Participants can reinforce all courses with an action plan, called the ALGEE action plan.
Having the basic knowledge in place to deliver this first aid action plan can make a huge difference. So you should consider training as a mental health first aider so you can deliver this initial support to those who may be struggling. Both in your community or your place of work, caring citizens can make all the difference.
Even as we transition to more independent lifestyles, we must make efforts to stay connected to and help our communities. Training as a mental health first aider may offer you no personal benefits. But it could be the reason why someone else lives to see another day. We can improve issues like anxiety, depression, and workplace mental health crisis if we are all educated on mental health issues.
|Kitchener, B.A., Jorm, A.F. Mental health first aid training for the public: evaluation of effects on knowledge, attitudes and helping behavior. BMC Psychiatry 2, 10 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-2-10|
|World Bank Group & World Health Organization, 2016. Out of The Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority.|
2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases, substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), 2020.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.