What is Mental Health First Aid?
26 September 2018
Imagine a loved one. A brother or sister. Father or mother. Daughter or son.
Imagine this person is deep in the throes of a mental crisis. This may be an intense bout of depression. It may be a flight of mania. It may an emerging psychosis with a diminishing link to reality. It may be a substance overdose. Or it may be someone who has thought about, or even attempted suicide.
What would you do? What would you say? What questions would you ask? How would you communicate positive feelings to the person in crisis?
It is these questions that are answered by Mental Health First Aid.
We are all aware of “regular” First Aid – the help given to a person immediately when they present with a physical illness or injury. It is aimed at recognising the illness or injury, stabilising the person, reducing environmental risks and putting in place the supports that will later become necessary for more formal treatment at a clinic or hospital.
Mental Health First Aid is a similar thing. It is the help given to a person immediately when they present with a mental illness – whether it is emerging, moderate, or a full crisis. It is aimed at recognising the illness, stabilising the person, reducing environmental risks and putting in place the supports that will later become necessary for more formal treatment at a clinic or hospital. It may be specialised for different illnesses, and for different groups of people prone to specific illnesses.
So, for example, suicidal ideation or suicidal action in a young person calls forth a specific set of responses to the suicidal person. These Mental Health First Aid responses may include asking the person whether they were thinking of self harm; whether they had developed a plan to take self-harm; and whether they had attempted an act of self-harm. It may also call forth certain supportive actions or words, such as telling the person in crisis they are loved.
As our society increasingly recognises the importance of mental health, and the many problems brought forth by mental illness, Mental Health First Aid will become more important. Indeed, it should be taught to front-line medical and mental health service providers as a matter of course, just as regular First Aid is taught.
Mental Health First Aid may also be useful for the partners, friends and family members of someone experiencing episodic bouts of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Knowing what to say, and when to say it, can have an enormous impact on the loved one suffering the demon of a mental illness. It may even keep them on this earth.
One Door Mental Health offers various courses in Mental Health First Aid.
If this article has raised any difficult issues for you or a loved one, please contact medical care and/or contact a crisis line. The number for Lifeline is 13 11 14. The number for BeyondBlue is 1300 22 4636.
Dr Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health email@example.com.