Mental Health First Aid

Mental ToughnessMany of us know and can apply the basics of first aid. We understand that to stop bleeding, we put pressure on the wound. A sprained ankle is treated with RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. But less of us understand the basics of mental health first aid, or even recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse in the first place.

It is important to at least know the basics of mental illness, because, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, one in five Americans has a mental illness. What makes mental health first aid more difficult is that the symptoms of mental illness are often hard to detect. Moreover, the person with the condition is usually hesitant to seek help. A lot of stigma surrounds mental health, so the person who is suffering might not know where to turn for help.

That’s where we can come in. Learning mental health first aid means that you are able to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, provide initial help, and connect the person to a wide variety of resources. A mental health first aid course teaches the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses including depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and substance abuse disorders.

By taking a class, you’ll be able to help a person experiencing things like hallucinations, panic attacks, thoughts of suicide, and an overdose of alcohol or drugs. The mental health first aid plan includes the following steps.

1. Assess for risk of harm or risk of suicide – Anyone in a mental crisis needs to be assessed for risk of harm to him or herself. This includes thoughts of suicide. Some of the warning signs of suicide include threats to harm oneself, talking about death or dying, hopelessness, irritability or anger, withdrawing from friends or family, and risky behaviors. Be sure to ask the person if they have a plan to harm him or herself. If they do have a plan, seek out emergency medical services right away.

2. Listen to their story – If the person is not in immediate risk, ask the person to describe what’s going on. It’s important to listen nonjudgmentally and use active listening skills. It also helps to treat the other person with dignity and respect and not to blame the person for their illness. Blaming only increases the stigma surrounding mental illness.

3. Encourage professional help – During the conversation, help the person explore his or her formal and informal resources. Formal supports include doctors, counselors, social workers and other mental health professionals. Informal resources include family, friends, and other places of emotional support.

4. Develop an action plan – An action plan sets out what the person is going to do next in order to get help. It could include coping strategies such as relaxation techniques, exercise, meditation, and participation in support groups. It helps if the individual comes up with his or her own action plan.

To find out where you can take a course in mental health first aid, visit

About the Author:


Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who has written for a variety of websites including and AKA Mom Magazine. She first started out as a history blogger at My Adventures in History, and her articles have been published in Idaho Magazine, Idaho Family Magazine, and Christian Living Mag ...


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mental health, mental toughness, mental preparedness

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