What Is Mental Health First Aid?

By David Konow 07/23/19

These classes offer participants useful knowledge that can be utilized in the event of a mental health emergency.

Teacher leading a mental health first aid class

Mental Health First Aid is a term that’s gained a lot of momentum lately, especially with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation, which encourages people to learn about mental health.

A report on CNN explains the importance of taking mental health first aid classes, and how mental health training can be incredibly beneficial.

These classes began 12 years ago, and close to two million people have attended them since. In 2015, the government allotted $20 million for this program, and in most areas of the U.S. you can take this class for free.

Inside The Program

While an eight-hour seminar can’t take the place of seeing a therapist or mental health professional, the program has been likened to learning CPR to equip yourself with lifesaving skills.
Betsy Schwartz, an executive at the Mental Health First Aid program, says, “We’re not training anyone to be a professional. We’re only teaching people how to be an empathetic friend, family member or coworker.”
CNN had attended a Mental Health First Aid seminar in Ohio, a state that’s had to grapple with alarming rates of addiction and suicide.

As one social worker explained, “Ohio, since 1999, has had a 30% increase in suicide deaths and is above the national average for suicide rates. So it’s really important that we’re getting information in people’s hands. They’re not easy conversations to have and oftentimes people shy away from that.”

At this seminar, instructors explained the signs to look out for with depression and anxiety, and how to help calm a person in the midst of a panic attack.

The acronym ALGEE was introduced and explained.

A - Assess for risk of harm or suicide 

L - Listen non-judgmentally 

G - Give information and reassurance 

E - Encourage professional help, if needed 

E -  Encourage self-help

Diving deeper into the final step, encourage self-help, one instructor explained, “It’s going to be very important to have some buy-in into [someone’s] own recovery. We all like to be able to say ‘I did this.’ Get them involved in those decision-making skills.”

One person who attended the class had lost a brother from suicide and had mental illness in her family. “Everyday in life you forget to listen and be aware,” she said. “If you’re uncomfortable, taking this class will help you become more confident in reaching out to somebody.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.