The other kind of first aid
Most of us have at least a basic idea of how to perform CPR. But when it comes to helping someone in a mental health crisis, many of us are in the dark. We sometimes shy away from stepping in for support because we’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
That’s where Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) comes in. MHFA is the help provided to a person who’s developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.
And just as you can take a first aid course with a local educator, you can learn MHFA with a certified instructor. The MHFA Canada Program helps people recognize and understand different mental disorders and teaches them how to guide someone toward the appropriate professional help. It also provides training for how to respond when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis like a panic attack, psychotic episode or suicidal behaviour.
Mental Health First Aid at HHS
Since 2013, more than 150 Hamilton Health Sciences employees have completed the Mental Health First Aid course. Instructor, Jessica Galopoulos says it’s an important part of developing a compassionate workforce. “MHFA can help you effectively and confidently support your coworkers, family members and friends who may be experiencing a mental health problem,” she says. “MHFA can play an important role in reducing stigma by increasing empathy and understanding in the workplace, at home, and in the community.”
MHFA doesn’t teach people how to be therapists. But it does teach people how to recognize when someone needs help and provide immediate support. That support can preserve life when a person might be a danger to themselves or others. It can prevent a mental health problem from becoming something more serious. And it can promote the recovery of good mental health.
If you know the ABC’s of CPR, you’ll be able to master ALGEE, the acronym that’s used to guide people through MHFA.
“A” is for assessing the person’s risk of suicide of harm. “L” is for listening non-judgmentally, a technique you learn in the MHFA course. “G” is for giving reassurance and information in the form of resources that could help. “E” is for encouraging appropriate professional help such as talking to a family doctor, guidance counsellor or spiritual elder. The second “E” is for encouraging other supports like self-care, self-help strategies or suggesting you go out for a coffee to talk things over.
How can you learn more?
One in three people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime and you may be the best person to help them. If you’re a Hamilton Health Sciences employee and are interested in learning more about MHFA, consider taking a two-day course at the Centre for People Development.