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Is Mental Health First Aid as important as its physical counterpart ?

Why Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training is as necessary as Physical First Aid ?

A person drops to the ground clutching their chest and stops breathing. Even those who haven’t undergone a physical first aid training course have seen enough CPR to be able to offer some support and attempt to save a life.

Physical first aid has become embedded in our psyche. We all know we need to stem blood loss, to roll people on their side into a recovery position, to wash eyes that have been splashed with substances. Then we know to call the emergency services or get them to an A & E department.

CPR aims to save life in a crisis, all the other scenarios to decrease the damage, and then to get the person to the appropriate professional support.


Mental Health First Aid does exactly the same. It aims to protect loss of life in a crisis, and to support people to the right professional help whilst limiting potential damage in other cases.

Statistically we are six times more likely to come across someone with suicidal ideation than we are someone suffering a cardiac arrest. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother training people in CPR. Of course we should. It saves lives.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of adult males under the age of 45.

Not Prostate Cancer or car crashes, accidents or heart attacks.

Nearly 16 people take their own lives every day, and 75% of those are males. Between 10-25 times that number attempt to take their own lives.

Roughly 200 people a day struggle with the most horrendous choice a human being should ever have to face.

MHFA skills the trainee to be able to asses and assist in these situations, both in an obvious crisis, but almost more importantly they will be able to intervene and support people who are increasingly at risk of harming themselves.

There is one point in training that always surprises people.

If we have identified that someone is depressed we must ask them the question - are they having suicidal thoughts ?

It almost seems contra-intuitive.

“If I ask aren’t I putting the though into their head ?”

If someone seems breathless, pale and having difficulty breathing would we not ask them whether they have chest pain and odd sensations in their arm ?

Would we ask them is they have felt like this before ? They may have done - it may be a panic attack, which mimics a heart attack.

They may also have previously experience Angina. We have to ask the appropriate questions to understand the severity of what we are dealing with, and what is the appropriate medical support.

In both Physical and Mental, we would always err on the side of caution ensuring the person gains the support they need.

But with the MHFA training we also come to understand that suicidal ideation is common and in fact 1 in 5 people experience such thoughts in their lifetime. They are common in depression, it is a symptom, but often one that is intrusive, but not acted upon.

MHFA’s can reassure people, as well as being able to react to having these thoughts. They are taught their own CPR Plan to gauge the risk if a person is having these thoughts.

Current Plan - If there is a plan of how to harm them selves there is a very high risk - thought but no thoughts of a plan - less so.

Prior Behaviour - Have they previously attempted to harm themselves ? If so increased risk. Have they experienced thoughts before but found solutions to deal with is ? Positive point.

Resources - Who can they talk to ? Family member ? Friends ? Is there any current psych support ? Online support groups ?

We have only touched on the crisis response to potential suicidal behaviour. This is just the first of four sessions in the MHFA training modules. The rest are there to respond, and prevent, conditions like stress and anxiety, that can lead to depression and further complications, whilst the fourth sessions looks at psychosis and modelling recovery within our communities and workplaces.

Covid has brought anxiety, depression and stress to the forefront of our concerns. Remote working first felt liberating, but for many it has increased disconnection from their fellows to a previously unknown and damaging level.

There is an elephant in the room in our workplaces, and styles of work. Job security for us and our partners have spawned levels of anxiety previously unknown in our lives. OCD has become common place with understandable germ-phobic behaviour.

All the time we hear companies saying ‘People are our most important assets…’

Now is the time that we put our money where our mouth is.

Should we weight MHFA the same as its physical counterpart ?


It saves lives, and prevents others from being blighted by the conditions that the present not the future are increasing.

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