Mental Health First Aid

The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) recently coordinated a training on Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Developed in 2001, the goal of MHFA is to teach members of the public (“helpers”) how to respond in a mental health emergency and offer support to someone who appears to be in emotional distress.

Because the training is designed for members of the public, there are a number of generally-held myths that need to be addressed. Once thought to affect very few, it’s estimated that one in five Americans will experience a diagnosable mental disorder in any year. That means that most of us will have a family member, neighbor, colleague, friend, or others we encounter who face a mental health challenge. But we also need to keep in mind that many of these people lead productive and satisfying lives, sometimes with little or no access to formal mental health services.
Recovery is defined as regaining physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional balance. The most important component of recovery is hope. This means that the most important role of the helper is to offer hope. The helper also provides support in order for the person to feel less distressed and to seek further assistance.

The best way to help is to listen, to give the person your full attention. Listening may be the most effective link in helping a person to seek treatment. In order to listen well, the helper needs to:
• Avoid premature conclusions based on your own life experiences.
• Help the person understand self.
• Permit the person to retain ownership of the challenge.
• Listen without judging.
• Maintain an optimistic attitude.

The Mental Health First Aid Training includes a manual with the following:
• Overview of mental health problems
• Information on specific mental health problems including depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance use, eating disorders, and crises
• Action plan for help that includes assessment, listening, giving reassurance, and encouraging appropriate professional and self-help.

A certified instructor provides the 8-hour training which is highly interactive. The training day that NFPN coordinated was offered in a rural area and attended primarily by first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs) along with a school counselor, pastors, professional mental health counselor, senior citizen center manager, and national organization administrator. The workplace cultural differences in the group were very apparent early on! However, in rural areas it’s critical to work across systems and the training was especially useful in that regard. There are no behavioral health services offered in this rural town so it’s essential to have this type of training.

The training day (including lunch, snacks) was funded by the state behavioral health contracting organization.

For more information visit

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

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