What is mental health first aid?
We can start approaching Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) intervention by paralleling with first aid or CPR, which I know many companies use in their mandatory training. In CPR training, people with no clinical background learn how to assist someone following a heart attack. Mental Health First Aid will be the equivalent to that, but with a focus on mental health. Mental Health First Aid can be applied at any point of the Dual-Continua Model.
The central aim of Mental Health First Aid is to improve mental health literacy. All of those concepts are related to increasing the knowledge around mental health and mental ill health. The aims of MHFA are to prevent the mental health problem from becoming more serious, provide comfort to a person with a mental health problem, preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm, and promote recovery of good mental health. From these specific aims, we can see that MHFA may have a different focus from prevention, intervention in crisis, and recovery support.
MHFA is about individuals and services being equipped with the skills to identify, assist, and act as a point of contact and reassurance for a person who may be developing or experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. The evidence behind this intervention demonstrates that it builds mental health literacy, decreases stigmatizing attitudes, and helps individuals identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. It relates to factors that seem most helpful to people's long-term recovery, including feeling connected to others and hopeful, having access to support, and feeling able to help themselves as individuals and communities. It is an approach that can be learned by both professionals and nonprofessionals who are in a position to support and help people.
MHFA can be integrated into our daily and work lives. Typically, it is offered by someone in the person's social network or someone working in a public-facing role, so we are in a position to support people in that regard. It is not a psychological intervention or therapy. It is the first point of contact aiming to assist someone who may be struggling with mental well-being. There is specific training available for people interested in being qualified Mental Health First Aiders, and was first created in Australia in 2001. The US is one of the many countries that have adapted the program from the original Australian program. Currently, Mental Health First Aid training in the US is managed and delivered by the Department of Mental Health.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Mental Health First Aid Awareness, presented by Tania Sofia Nogueira, MSc, HCPC – UK, COT – UK, ACSS – PT.