First aid is the immediate help given to any person suffering from either a minor or serious illness or injury to prevent it getting worse or promote recovery or even save a life.
Mental Health First Aid is help that is provided to improve a person’s mental health and prevent them from developing a mental health problem. Just as with traditional first aid, mental health first aid is not about treating or diagnosing mental health conditions but is about offering initial support until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves. Until recently mental health first aid was unheard of.
Just as with traditional physical first aid, spotting the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and administering the correct first aid can be vital. It is important to be aware of crucial warning signs of mental ill health and be able to feel confident in giving someone the appropriate support. Mental health first aiders have an awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. The role of a mental health first aider in the workplace might be to be a point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. This also applies to the role of a mental health first aider in a school to support young people. The interaction could range from having an initial conversation through to supporting the person to get appropriate help.
As well as in a crisis, Mental Health First Aiders are valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue. Mental Health First Aiders are not trained to be therapists or psychiatrists but they can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.
Mental Health First Aid can involve the following:
- Spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill health;
- Start a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress;
- Listen to the person non-judgementally;
- Assess the risk of suicide or self-harm;
- Encourage the person to access appropriate professional support or self-help strategies. This might include encouraging access to internal support systems such as EAPs or in-house counselling services;
- Escalate to the appropriate emergency services, if necessary;
- Maintain confidentiality as appropriate;
- Complete critical incident documents as and when necessary;
- Protect themselves while performing their role.
Young people’s emotional health is just as important as their physical health, but information and support for mental wellbeing can be harder to come by. Some of the recent statistics published on mental ill health in those under the age of 24 are startling.
In those under the age of 24:
- 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health issue;
- 50% of mental health issues are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24;
- Suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged 5-19 27%;
- More than a quarter of students report having a mental health issue;
- Nearly half say these issues prevent them from completing some daily tasks;
- 80% of young people say exam pressure has a big impact on their mental health but…
…only a quarter of young people with a diagnosable mental health issue get access to the treatment and care they need. 10 years is the average delay between a young person first showing symptoms of mental ill health and getting help.
First aid may just involve starting a conversation with them and this can be the first step on that journey to support.
Signs to look out for in mental health that might require immediate intervention and first aid include:
- Changes in appetite
- Alcohol and/or drug misuse
- Sleep problems
- Being tired all the time
- Unexplained aches, pains or injuries
- Silent, withdrawn or distracted
- Incoherent speech
- Being unable to concentrate
- Having memory loss
- Being tearful
- Being uncooperative
- A drop in academic performance
- Erratic timekeeping
- Poor attendance
- Disruptive or aggressive behaviour
- Excessive risk-taking
- Lack of personal hygiene
If a young person is feeling suicidal, or thinking of hurting themselves or others though
Go directly to A & E
For less urgent situations
See your GP or contact the NHS 111 phone or online service.
How do you apply First Aid through a supportive conversation?
Even a supportive conversation can make all the difference. Talking Tips to help the conversation include keeping body language open and non confrontational, not offering glib advice e.g. ‘cheer up’, being empathetic and take them seriously and keeping the chat positive and supportive exploring the issues.
Questions you could ask…
– How long have you felt like this?
– What type of support do you think could help?
– How are you feeling at the moment?
– How can I help you?
Understanding young people’s emotional health is just as important as their physical health, but information and support for mental wellbeing can be harder to come by.
Mental health first aid is important to understand to allow effective intervention before it goes too far.