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Mental Health First Aid: How to help someone in a crisis

Mental Health First Aid: How to help someone in a crisis
Reviewed by:
Authored by:
Megan Green, DO
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 9, 2019
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It is important to address mental health issues as soon as symptoms begin to appear. Sometimes the symptoms of a mental illness will present themselves gradually while other times they will be much more noticeable. There may have been a time where you have tried to comfort a family member or friend going through a mental health crisis but you did not know what to say or do to help. Many times we just don't want to make the matter worse while we try to find help. Mental Health First Aid is program that trains individuals in how to respond in these situations.Mental illness does typically disappear on its own. In fact, It becomes even harder to treat when left to persist. People with depression, for instance, may initially experience sadness, irritability, and fatigue, but left untreated, these symptoms could become more serious. As a result, if untreated depression can lead to an individual can have an increased chance of risky behaviors. These behaviors can lead to drug or alcohol addiction or even self harm. Illness and traumatic experiences make people vulnerable, but the Mental Health First Aid program can prevent or alleviate these problems.

What is the Mental Health First Aid program?

Mental Health First Aid is a first-aid training program for mental health that enables anyone to identify and respond to signs of mental illness. The program started in Australia in 2001 and has since spread to other countries, including the United States. The 8-hour course trains participants to provide help to individuals who experience depression, self-injury, suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, substance use disorders, eating disorders, aggressive behaviors, and psychosis. The course is usually provided in one day or in two days of 4 hour sessions.


Data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that in 2017, one in five American adults, or about 46.6 million people, lived with mental health problems. Of these, only 19.8 million sought mental health services.Mental health stigma remains a barrier that prevents many people from seeking professional treatment. The Mental Health First Aid program helps to spread awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.The program aims to address this crisis by training people to effectively identify and help individuals who may be suffering from mental health issues.Mental health first aid is not intended to replace mental health professionals. Just like giving CPR to someone who had a heart attack before the medics arrive, its objective is to provide support to individuals experiencing a mental health issue until professional help becomes available.

What you will learn from Mental Health First Aid training

Mental health first aide trainees engage in activities that improve their understanding of mental health illnesses. They also learn to practice effective intervention strategies. As a trainee you will cover topics such as depression and mood disorders, psychosis, anxiety disorders, trauma, and substance use disorders.Those who received training improved their knowledge in identifying signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental illness and addiction.Trainees are better equipped to identify different types of professional and self-help resources for people with addiction problems and mental illness. Those with mental health first aid training may have increased confidence in helping people in distress.Studies likewise found that the program reduces participants’ negative attitudes towards sufferers of mental health problems, and increases their supportive behavior towards these individuals.Participants who struggle with mental health problems also benefit from the program. Those who joined the program experience improved mental wellness themselves, suggesting that the course can help those who struggle with mental health issues.

Mental Health First Aid action plan

Mental health first aid involves a five-step action plan called ALGEE, which stands for:

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

Responders can apply this action plan in different situations. Some situations that may be appropriate include panic attacks, suicidal behaviors, self-injury, hallucinations or delusions, and reactions to traumatic events.

Who should join

Mental health first aid training is for anyone and everyone. It is particularly helpful to those who regularly interact with the public. These certainly include teachers, medical professionals, first responders and those who work for government agencies.Since the program started in the United States 12 years ago, nearly 2 million Americans received mental health first aid training. The training can be availed of for free in most communities. To get trained, you can visit this Mental Health First Aid website for information on available courses near you. You can also email info@mentalhealthfirstaid.org to request special training for your group or company.

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a local, accessible and complete mental healthcare solution that accepts insurance. We close the gap for individuals who want to get better, but feel that mental health care has been challenging to navigate up until this point and want a more convenient way to take the first step. Talkiatry takes the traditional local mental health visit and combines it with technology, scale, efficiency, and design to provide the best possible environment for healing.The Talkiatry branded mental health practice is independently owned and operated by a licensed Psychiatrist. For more information about the relationship between Talkiatry Management Services, LLC and the branded group practice please click here.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Dr. Green (she/her) holds the position of staff psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-eligible in adult psychiatry. She has been practicing for over four years in various settings including, inpatient, outpatient, consult-liaison, emergency, Veteran, and community-based environments. She is licensed in the states of New York and Virginia.

Dr. Green's practice focuses on the integration of medication management and psychotherapy. Her practice style is collaborative to establish trust and build rapport while meeting patient-specific goals. Dr. Green approaches patient care from a holistic perspective that is individualized, evidence-based, and patient-centered.

She received her medical degree from the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine on Long Island, NY. Her adult residency training was completed at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA. In addition to general, adult psychiatry, Dr. Green is clinically experienced and interested in treating patients of a wide variety.

She is particularly interested in treating patients with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, trauma-related disorders, and personality disorders. Dr. Green enjoys exploring with patients a holistic approach to mental health treatment, which includes a discussion of interpersonal relationships, lifestyle behaviors (exercise, diet, sleep), and self-compassion.

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