5 Things You'll Learn in a Mental Health First Aid Class

Two women supporting handsIf you have ever been injured and do not have access to immediate medical attention, you have probably received some form of first aid. This temporary medical help probably helped heal the injury and kept it from getting worse until you get to a hospital or see your doctor.

Like physical injuries, mental health concerns and substance abuse can have serious health implications. They can cause permanent damage and can even lead to death. But these emotional injuries tend to be less visible and it's not always easy to find someone who is struggling.

One category of mental health first aid training is a public education program that aims to teach people how to identify risk factors and warning signs of these concerns. During this 8-hour training, you will learn to recognize a mental health crisis, provide immediate support, and help people access resources for long-term care.

As with first aid for injury, mental health first aid is not going to be a long-term solution. The support of a trained mental health professional is essential for people living with mental health problems or working to overcome substance abuse.

One category of mental health first aid training is a public education program that aims to teach people how to identify risk factors and warning signs of these concerns.

In your first aid training in mental health, you will learn the five-step action plan, ALGEE:

  1. Assess the risk of suicide / injury
  2. Listen non-critical
  3. Provide information and confirm
  4. Encourage the search for professional support
  5. Encourage self-help and coping methods

Read on to find out what this looks like in practice.

1. How to rule out a tense situation

Remaining calm is an important part of dealing effectively with a crisis. It can be difficult to help someone experiencing panic, hallucinations or other psychotic symptoms or acute trauma reach a calmer state if your mood is also elevated.

Someone dealing with acute emotional distress may speak to hurt himself, which can be frightening to hear. Fear can cause some people to react with judgment, anger, or confusion. But these reactions can aggravate a situation.

Training in mental health first aid provides the opportunity to develop communication skills – both for non-verbal abilities, such as body language and verbal abilities, such as knowing what to say. Knowing how to communicate with compassion can make all the difference when trying to reach someone in crisis. You will learn to offer reassurance and respect, with an attitude that normalizes what someone goes through without accusing them. Role-playing activities during training give you the opportunity to apply these skills to a variety of scenarios.

2. How to measure the risk of harm to yourself or others

You may be worried that someone living with depression or another mental health condition is at high risk of hurting themselves. Symptoms of certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or personality disorder, are often also associated with an increased risk of harm to oneself or others.

It is important to recognize the following:

  • Most people with mental illnesses do no harm to anyone.
  • Many people who have suicidal thoughts do not plan to commit suicide.
  • Many people who self-harm do not plan to commit suicide.

However, it is still important to talk to a trained professional about suicidal behaviors or suicidal thoughts. Recognizing certain warning signs can help you find out when someone can address these challenges so you can better assess the likelihood of harm. This can help you direct someone to the right resources.

Some possible warning symptoms of suicide include:

  • Talking about death, despair or feeling like weight
  • Talking about the desire for a way out
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Rapid, dramatic or significant mood swings
  • Sleep a lot or not
  • Behavior in dangerous or extreme situations

Supporting a person experiencing despair and suicidal thoughts can include finding and reaching out to a therapist who can help them work through the underlying causes. But a person with a clear plan for suicide needs immediate, urgent help. The National Suicide Prevention Agency can provide guidance to 1-800-273-TALK (8255), but you can also call the nearest emergency room.

3. Coping techniques

Coping and self-care techniques can help anyone manage discomfort, not just people living with mental health issues. But these techniques usually benefit those who face regular emotional challenges as they can increase resilience and promote calm. People who use coping tools can often cope with the symptoms before they become overwhelming.

During your first aid training in mental health, you will learn more about some of the many treatment methods you can suggest, such as:

4. Support next steps and follow-up care

Mental health first aid training enables you to support someone through a mental health crisis or a period of substance abuse. It does not train you to provide long-term care or support. A key part of first aid for mental health is learning how to refer people to professionals who can provide the best type of treatment for their needs.

Depending on a person's symptoms or concerns, you can help them locate one of the following types of health professionals:

You cannot force someone to seek treatment, but in mental health first aid training, you will learn how to encourage people to help. This may include an explanation of how treatment or counseling can help or talk about the treatments available. You can also help someone locate a nearby therapist or find a number for a clinic or helpline.

5. What to do when you, yourself, are in crisis

While you may find a profession that helps others find potential survival support for salvation, you may also find it stressful. You may even feel drained or overwhelmed sometimes, as working with people in crisis can affect your emotional well-being over time.

Mental health first aid providers help people learn to take care of their emotional health and access useful resources when needed, but before they can offer this help, they must also know how to care for their own well-being. By participating in a mental health first aid training program, you will be better able to recognize when your emotional well-being is low. This awareness can help you know when you should take the time to recharge, prioritize self-care, and get help for yourself.

Awareness of mental health concerns and their various signs and symptoms has increased in recent years. This awareness is a key factor in treatment. Nice understanding is another factor that is just as important in suicide prevention.

Mental health first aid teaches you how to provide this compassion and care as you help someone find resources to cope with an immediate emotional crisis. Once they overcome the immediate challenge, they can find help. Compassionate healers are just a few clicks away from our list of therapists, found here.

Bibliographical references:

  1. ALGEE: The Action Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/THE-ACTION-PLAN.png
  2. Frequent questions. (n.d.). National Council on Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/faq
  3. First aid for mental health. (n.d.). National Council on Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/about/mental-health-first-aid
  4. Risk and protection factors. (n.d.). Suicide Prevention Center. Retrieved from https://www.sprc.org/about-suicide/risk-protective-factors
  5. Stress management. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/health-wellness/wellness-strategies/stress-management
  6. Health strategies. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/health-wellness/wellness-strategies
  7. What are you learning? (n.d.). National Council on Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/what-you-learn

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