By Jessica Diamond
What is a Mental Health First Aider?
Just like with physical first aid, you can be trained in mental health first aid, meaning you’re able to provide immediate and effective first aid to someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
What are the signs that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis?
Signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis really vary from person to person. There are obvious signs like sudden outbursts and yelling if someone is experiencing a schizophrenic break to the more quiet, internal breakdown of someone having a panic attack.
The biggest indication that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis is that they are not acting as they normally do.
How do you provide support to someone having a mental health crisis?
There’s a helpful acronym to remember: ALGEE.
The first step is to assess the situation for signs of suicide or harm. Look for signs of the person being in immediate and extreme distress. If that’s the case – call 911.
If the signs are less extreme and you feel your own safety isn’t threatened, then you Listen non-judgementally to the person and try to understand how they’re feeling.
After they have finished expressing themselves, you want to Give reassurance of hope and information on how you can help them. Let them know that what they’re feeling is valid and that there is support for them.
Then you want to Encourage appropriate professional help. Remember – you’re there as the first point of contact, but they need to seek professional support after they speak with you.
Finally, you want to Encourage self-help and other support strategies. Suggest they reach out to family, friends, or other local supports in the community. This will help them build a system of support as they recover.
How do you ensure you’re prepared to step in when someone’s experiencing a mental health crisis?
The first step would be getting trained by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. They will provide in-depth and invaluable training that will help you become aware of the signs that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and how to safely intervene.
The other advice I would give is to be up-to-date on local support systems that you can recommend to someone. Knowing a few helpful websites and phone numbers is always a good idea.
Any final pieces of advice?
As with physical first aid, always remember your own safety. If you don’t feel that you can safely intervene and help, that’s absolutely fine and just be ready to call 911 and direct them to the situation.