Public Health Community Advisory – Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack—even if you have no clinical training— the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health-related crisis. In the MHFA course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help. MHFA is an in-person training that teaches you how to help persons developing a mental illness or in a crisis. It is an eight-hour course that teaches you how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses. The certificate is good for three years.
As an active and passionate advocate of human rights, Antonia Correa, an outreach project specialist in the UNMC COPH Center for Reducing Health Disparities, looks for “the elimination of health disparities, through fair and equal health services, including mental health care.” Antonia’s understanding of Hispanic cultural beliefs, norms, and values, and the lack/disparity of services in the area of mental health, has played a major role in her commitment to educating the Hispanic population of Omaha on this topic. Antonia says that
…“the MHFA Instructor Training gave me the opportunity to strengthen the knowledge and skills I had to assist people dealing with mental illnesses. My desire has been to provide culturally sensitive information about mental health; how to deal with family, friends, and acquaintances affected by mental illness; and how to remove the widespread stigma that keeps those with mental illness in the shadows. I know I can assist with developing advocates to do that. That’s why I became a trainer of MHFA: to develop a community resource bank with innate leaders who want to support their family, friends, neighbors, and community during mental health crisis situations. The MHFA program knows the critical shortages of bilingual and culturally competent mental health providers, and has made available the tools to develop the skills of community members necessary to become MHFA program assistants.”
4 Reasons to Become a Mental Health First Aider
Be prepared: When a mental health crisis happens, know what to do.
You can help: People with mental illnesses often suffer alone.
Mental illnesses are common: 1 in 5 adults in any given year.
You care: Be there for a friend, family member, or colleague.
What You Learn
Participants in an MHFA course discuss signs and symptoms. The course trains participants to help people who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis. You learn:
Risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems.
Information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and addiction disorders.
A 5-step action plan to help someone developing a mental health problem or in crisis.
Where to turn for help — professional, peer, and self-help resources.
Before you can know how to help, you need to know when to help. We call this mental health literacy—or a basic understanding of what different mental illnesses and addictions are, how they can affect a person’s daily life, and what helps individuals experiencing these challenges get well.
You learn about:
Depression and mood disorders
Substance Use disorders
MHFA teaches about recovery and resiliency—the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.
The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan: A-L-G-E-E
Assess for risk of suicide or harm
Give reassurance and Information
Encourage appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help and other support strategies
When you take a course, you learn how to apply the MHFA action plan (A-L-G-E-E ) in a variety of situations, including when someone is experiencing:
•Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
•Acute psychosis (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
•Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
•Reaction to a traumatic event
This article was written by Antonia Correa, MA, outreach project specialist in the UNMC COPH Center for Reducing Health Disparities, and by Denise Britigan, MA, PhD, CHES, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Parts of this article are used, with permission, from the MFHA website.