Mental Health First Aid

If someone broke their leg skiing, would you know what to do? What if they were choking at the next table in a restaurant where you were eating? Chances are you’d know a thing or two about splints and the Heimlich Maneuver. But what if someone you knew seemed constantly down, or talked about suicide, or was obviously cutting themselves regularly? It would be fair to say that most of us know more about physical first aid than mental health first aid (MHFA). But this is changing.

Developed in Australia by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm in 2001, MHFA is a public education program that helps community members identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

In the United States, MHFA has taken root and is being piloted in various cities across the country, including now in DeKalb.

The MHFA is a 12-hour interactive course. Those who get certified learn a five-step action plan:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies