Mental Health First Aid


Mental health emergencies can arise at any time and be just as dangerous. Like CPR, first aid for mental health crises may provide valuable assistance until professional emergency responders arrive.

Anyone can administer mental health first aid; all that matters is knowing what steps to take when someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency or crisis.

What is MHFA?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognized training program that equips participants to recognize signs of mental illness or substance use issues, provide initial help, and direct someone toward appropriate professional resources. Certified trainers teach this training worldwide.

It was developed in Australia in 2001 by Professor Anthony Jorm and Betty Kitchener, an Australian nurse specializing in mental health literacy. Their goal was to use their personal experiences of depression as inspiration to create a course designed to reduce stigmatism and offer assistance to those living with the illness.

Psychological first aid (PFA), usually focused on aiding victims after disasters or other traumatic events, MHFA addresses all forms of mental illnesses and their related crises. MHFA seeks to avoid tragedies by casting the widest net possible to detect those experiencing any mental or substance use challenge and encourage them to seek assistance.

This program is founded on the belief that, just as physical first aid should be available until appropriate medical attention can be found or until an emergency has been resolved, psychological first aid must also be available until proper care can be found. MHFA seeks to fill this void by teaching individuals to recognize and respond quickly to mental health or substance use challenges before they escalate.

Research has proven MHFA effective at decreasing stigma, increasing knowledge, improving attitudes and helping behaviors, and encouraging helping behaviors among its trainees. One evaluation conducted in 2002 by its creators shows statistically significant increases in trainee knowledge about mental disorders and increased willingness to help. To assess its success, this evaluation used questionnaires at the beginning, end, and six-month postcourse evaluations to measure this change.

Why take MHFA?

Mental health first aid (MHFA) training can be lifesaving in a society where depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions don’t seek professional treatment as often. In such an environment, mental health first aid training provides vital relief in emergencies until professional help arrives or the crisis passes.

MHFA courses can be found worldwide and have proven successful in various settings. A meta-analysis showed that training in Mental Health First Aid improved knowledge of mental disorders and their treatments, recognition of signs and symptoms of distress, beliefs about how to offer initial help, confidence to provide support to others, and decreasing stigmatizing attitudes against those living with mental illnesses.

There is also a community-specific version of MHFA training called “MHFA Police,” explicitly designed to improve interactions between police and the public in cases of potential mental health emergencies.

As more and more people recognize the need for additional care for mental illness, citizens can help by learning this life-saving skill. Furthermore, many workplaces now provide expert MHFA courses as part of employee wellness programs to promote employee health and increase productivity; this reduces absenteeism while improving productivity.

What is MHFA’s 5-step plan?

Like CPR training, MHFA instructs people on assisting someone experiencing a mental health crisis. The five steps include assessing the risk of suicide, listening nonjudgmentally, providing reassurance and information, promoting self-help strategies, and encouraging professional help-seeking. MHFA instructors also educate participants on common mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, or substance use issues.

Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service was awarded a Herbert Bearman Foundation grant to bring its Mobile First Aid Center (MHFA) program into Palm Beach County 2014. Since then, over 500 people have become certified first aiders, including many PBSO officers.

MHFA is an 8-hour course designed to teach adults how to help others in crisis. After the procedure, participants receive a three-year valid certification in mental health first aid (MHFA). This training program targets parents, grandparents, teachers, school staff, neighbors, and co-workers of adults experiencing mental health challenges or crises and caring citizens who want to know how to assist an adult requiring immediate assistance.

MHFA for Youth is an eight-hour course designed to teach parents, grandparents, teachers, school staff, peers, and other caring citizens how to assist adolescents experiencing mental well-being challenges. This program addresses teens’ needs in terms of the symptoms that indicate mental illness or crisis and assists. MHFA was developed by the National Council on Mental Wellbeing and administered through SAMSHA – making this nationally-recognized program evidence-based.

What is MHFA’s mnemonic?

At the core of Mental Health First Aid training is learning how to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis, whether that involves experiencing panic attacks, withdrawal or substance abuse symptoms, suicidal urges, relationship conflicts, or psychotic episodes – or any combination thereof. The goal of MHFA training is to provide first aid until professional care becomes available – participants learn that when someone is experiencing a crisis, they should ask for assistance without judgment while providing nonjudgmental listening, providing reassurance and information, encouraging appropriate professional care as well as promoting self-help strategies – trainers use acronym ALGEE trainers remind students about these steps:

Though numerous programs are designed to increase mental health literacy and help-seeking behavior among adolescents, Teen MHFA stands out because it utilizes trained instructors as facilitators, takes place within secondary schools, and focuses on helping a peer rather than family or friends. Furthermore, this program evaluates its impact on people experiencing mental health difficulties (i.e., recipients).

As part of this study, a survey questionnaire was administered at three points: immediately before and after mental health first aid training and three months later. Questions included those on knowledge, beliefs, stigmatizing attitudes, and first aid behavioral intentions assessed using vignettes showing an adolescent with depression or suicidal ideation (John) or social phobia (Jeanie). Results demonstrated that students’ confidence in helping John/Jeanie had significantly increased after attending MHFA training; furthermore, this increase was maintained over three three-month follow-ups.

Who should take MHFA?

Mental health first aid training equips participants to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis, similar to how CPR training teaches individuals. Participants learn to identify, understand, and respond appropriately when signs of mental illness or addiction arise and where to get assistance locally or online.

MHFA courses are accessible to everyone from adults, teenagers, veterans, and law enforcement officers – including everyone in between! Over three million people have already been trained to recognize mental health crises and help someone experiencing difficulties; that number continues to increase as more take part and become certified instructors in their communities.

Mental health first aid should be available and accessible to all Coloradans, so CBHC is asking the Colorado legislature in 2023 to fund 16 instructors across Colorado, so the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum can be taught locally.

At Adult & Child, all support staff must undergo Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. Knowing about mental health and addiction issues helps break down the stigma surrounding such topics while better serving our clients. The course equips staff members to recognize signs of emerging mental health problems early, provide initial care and support services, and identify where to go for help, an invaluable skill that’s especially useful during emergency situations. Participants also practice how to formulate 5-step crisis plans.