Mental health first aid: What is it and why is it important?

Those who do a first aid course – and become accredited first aiders – know that their role is to provide assistance until expert help can be accessed.

The same is true for mental health first aid.

By attending the mental health first aid course, I’m not expected to be a mental health expert. But I do feel more prepared to help friends, family members and work colleagues if they’re struggling.

The two-day course gave countless insights to having tough conversations, handling difficult situations related to mental health challenges, and being part of early interventions that can really help people. It also gave me the confidence to feel I can say the right things in those situations.

So much so that I left feeling that, if as many people did mental health first aid as those who do physical first aid, our communities could be safer, more empathetic places.

Just like a physical first aid course, the mental health first aid course covers a range of the most common health problems that we might come across, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and more. Discussions around the signs and symptoms (not for diagnostic purposes, but to know how to assist until professional help can be accessed) were detailed. We were provided with practical strategies for helping people going through these issues – particularly in a crisis situation – as well as a comprehensive handbook to keep.

Attending the training through Fortem meant there were first responders and partners of first responders there, which helped to make it relatable as we discussed the issues we might be likely to come across.

There is also the option to complete an online test afterwards, in order to become an accredited mental health first aider. This accreditation stands for three years.

With a toolkit of practical strategies at our fingertips, I left the course feeling like I’ve learnt important new skills and have the potential to help the people around me.