A Simple Tool for Giving Mental Health First Aid

If you witnessed someone getting seriously injured or having a heart attack, you’d likely have a general knowledge of what to do. You’d assess the person’s state of being, offer the help and comfort you could and call for emergency responders to get the person the help they need to hopefully survive.

Would you know what to do if you came into contact with someone experiencing a mental health problem? Even though one in five adults in the United States will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, many people don’t know how to respond in the event of a mental health emergency or when it comes to helping friends or loved ones with an ongoing mental health condition.

Mental Health First Aid USA provides training to people who want to know how to help others experiencing depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, and substance use disorders.

Jean Holthaus, LISW is a Clinic Manager at Michigan-based Pine Rest and a Mental Health First Aid instructor. Holthaus said the aim of Mental Health First Aid is very similar to medical first aid – attempt to stabilize the individual experiencing difficulty and connect them to appropriate professional assistance.

While mental health issues are often complex, Mental Health First Aid has created a simple mnemonic device to help you take the right first steps if you encounter a co-worker, family member, friend or stranger experiencing mental health issues.

Remember ALGEE

If you need to help someone, remember the word ALGEE. Depending on the situation, you might not need to utilize all of these steps or might not do them in the order listed below.

Here’s what you need to know:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm. If someone appears to be at risk of harming themselves or others, it’s important that you seek professional help immediately, whether the person in crisis wants it or not.

Listen Nonjudgmentally.  Regardless of the situation, listening to what is happening for the individual struggling is essential.  As you listen, try to avoid immediately jumping to solutions. Just listen and do so without judging.

Give Reassurance and Information. To help the individual feel you have listened well and understand, it’s important to offer empathy and reassurance. Let them know they’re not the only person to have experienced what they’re going through and that there is hope.

Encourage Appropriate Professional Help. Seeking professional help is important for people experiencing mental health issues. It might feel overwhelming, but offer to help the person find the right resources for them. Options could include medication, counseling or psychotherapy, support for family members, assistance with vocational and educational goals and assistance with income and accommodation.

Encourage Self-Help and other Support Strategies. In addition to professional help, encourage the person to use self-help strategies or to seek out additional help from supportive family and friends.

As you interact with someone experiencing mental health issues, don’t take it upon yourself to “fix” the person. Your role should be to support them and help them reach out to take the next steps toward getting appropriate care.

If you’re interested in becoming certified in Mental Health First Aid, sign up for a course near you.

Want to learn more about mental health? Check out these blogs:

Photo credit: Drew Coffman

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