Mental health first aid (MHFA) is provided to someone who is developing a mental illness, having a mental crisis or someone with worsening of an existing mental illness. The skills required to provide are basic and easy enough for anyone in the society to learn and be of help.
The basic skills required to provide MHFA are summarised in the action plan of the programs, which is ALGEE. ALGEE consist of 5 key elements that were found consistent across many different guidelines.
Step 1: Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis
The first step in the action plan is to approach the person, find if there is any crisis they are experiencing and identify what the crisis is and help them deal with it. The skills needed for this step are:
- First to make sure the person is safe and comfortable to speak.
- To be aware of the signs and symptoms of common mental illness and mental health crisis such as suicide and self harm.
- Questioning the person to identify the crisis without invading their privacy.
- If the person does not say anything, aider has to initiate a conversation.
Step 2: Listen non-judgmentally
Most of the time, it is seen that people suffering with mental illness want to be heard. Listening may sound like a small thing to do, but in many cases it can have tremendous effect. Even for a person without any mental health issue, under stressful situation, being heard can give the kind of relief that an intervention would give. Skills needed:
- Verbal and non verbal gestures of listening are needed. When the person is telling you about their difficulty, the aider has to give verbal cues (such as “hmm” “yes” “ok”) and non verbal cues (such as nodding, leaning forward) that shows the aider is paying attention.
- Listening empathetically and not judgementally. While listening the aider has to keep aside any kind of judgments about the person or their situation. They must instead listen empathetically, putting oneself in the place of the other, trying to understand their pain through their eyes.
Step 3: Give support and information
Once the person feels heard, they feel safe and comfortable. Now they would be in a better position to accept any kind of support given.
- The aider has to provide emotional support. They can do this by empathizing, giving them hope that they would be fine and making them feel that they are not alone.
- Providing practical help. Here the aider has to be equipped with basic exercises that can help, such as if a person is having a panic attack, the aider can bring them in a quiet place and coach them to breath slowly. Also the aider has to always be equipped with a list of places and professionals the person in need can approach.
Step 4: Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
Here the aider can elaborate on the professional help available for their condition. Many times the person in need hesitate to get a professional help due to the stigma attached. The aider has to communicate the importance of these professional help and also about the outcomes if they ignore professional help.
- The aider has to be aware of the professional help available for the specific condition that the person is suffering.
- They should also be aware of how these professional treatments would help the person and communicate the same to the person.
Step 5: Encourage other supports
Educate them on the self help strategies they can use to help themselves. Encourage them to involve their family and friends and get support from them. Also educate them how communicating with other people who have similar issues can be of great help to them.