Mental Health First Aid is an education program that helps the participant identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts, self-injury and substance use disorders. The Mental Health First Aid course is offered in the form of an interactive course thatpresents an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders in the U.S. and introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, trauma-related symptoms, and psychosis while addressing stigma and building an understanding of their impact, and common treatments. Those who take the course learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources, and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care.
In 2008 there were only 3 Mental Health First Aid trainings offered in rural areas. In 2012 this number grew to 528, and reached 3,330 trainings in 20161. Between 2008 to 2016, nearly 200,000 individuals in rural communities received training, and nearly a half million others were trained across the US in that same period. Mental Health First Aide first came to Alaska in 2011, and since that time it has gone from zero people trained to over 13,000, but it is still not enough.
Mental Health First Aid also has a large body of research that supports it as an effective way to help everyday people recognize and address issues that may occur as a result of mental health. The parent organization of Mental Health First Aid provides a great summary of research about how effective it is from across the world.
One study points out that, “In any given year approximately 34% of the 130 million adults in the United States suffer from a mental health condition or disorder,”1. Another study found that people who take the training gained new knowledge, skills, and confidence in supporting those in their community who may be at risk of developing or experiencing mental health or substance use problems. A study from Canada found that Mental Health First Aid for First Nations found that the training reduced stigma about mental illness, improved awareness in confidence in approaching and helping those dealing with mental health issues, and acted as a community-wide source of prevention.
The Mental Health First Aid website describes the best kind of person to receive the training in this way: “Mental Health First Aiders are teachers, first responders and veterans. They’re neighbors, parents and friends. They’re people in recovery, and those supporting a lo9ved one. They’re First Ladies and Mayors. Mental Health First Aiders are anyone who wants to make their community healthier, happier and safer for all,”2. Much like CPR, Mental Health First Aid is designed to take away the fear and hesitation when it comes to addressing mental illness, and the more people who are trained the better off we will all be.
More information about Mental Health First Aid can be found at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org. To register for a MHFA training course in Alaska, search the catalog of behavioral health training events at www.aktclms.org. If you or someone you know is struggling and needs advice or support please contact the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-HELP or text HELP to 741741.
Brief video overview: https://youtu.be/TT_HLG5FkKA