Mental Health First Aid (a post for World Mental Health Day 2015)


Nice to have you over here. I’m glad you came to check out this extra resource.

So in the spirit of the theme of World Mental Health Day 2015, “Dignity in Mental Health,” it’s a good time to talk about how we can support people with mental illness.

So here’s a helpful approach to something called mental health first aid. (Of course, like all first aid, it’s the help given to a sick person before full medical treatment is available.) An easy way to remember is the word: ALGEE.  

A — Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis

First, you want to approach the person, look out for any crises and assist the person in dealing with them. The idea is to find a time and place where you both feel comfortable enough to approach the person about your concerns.

If the person does not initiate a conversation with you about how they are feeling, you should say something to them. Be sure to respect their privacy and confidentiality. Plus remember, to look out for any possible crisis you can assist with:

  • Might the person be likely to harm themselves (by attempting suicide, non-suicidal self-injury, or intoxicating themselves)?
  • Might the person be experiencing extreme distress (a panic attack, traumatic event)?
  • Might their behaviour be very disturbing to others (if they are aggressive or have lost touch with reality)?

If you have no concerns about the person being in crisis, you can ask how they are feeling and how long they’ve been feeling that way.

L — Listen non-judgmentally

This means listening without expressing any judgments about the person or their situation. No, “You shouldn’t have said that,” or “What were you thinking?” or anything like that. This is not the time for it. People experiencing distressing emotions and thoughts want empathy before help. Let the person know you really hear and understand them (you can do this by repeating what they’ve said in your own words to check that you understand).

G — Give support and information

Once people feel listened to, they’re often more open to support and information. (The common mistake is to give this without first listening.) The initial support can be emotional (empathising with how they feel and offering hope of recovery), and practical help with tasks that may seem overwhelming at the moment (as simple as making a meal can make a difference). This is also a good time to ask if they would like more information about mental health problems.

E — Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help

Tell the person you’re trying to help about other options for professional help and support. This includes not only medication, counselling or talk therapy, but also support for family members, help with work and school goals, or with income and accommodation.

E — Encourage other supports

Encourage the person to use self-help strategies and seek the support of loved ones, or even others who have experienced mental health problems.

And don’t forget — you need to care for yourself!

Providing mental health first aid can easily leave you feeling worn out or frustrated, even angry. You may need to deal with the feelings and reactions you set aside during the encounter. That’s okay: supporters need support, too.  If you can, find someone to talk to about what has happened. Be careful about this though: respect the person’s right to privacy and don’t share their name or any personal details the person you’re sharing with can use to identify them.

If you are interested in knowing more about how to support people with mental illness, email me:

Courtesy: World Mental Health Federation. 

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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