Mental Health First Aid Mascot - A koala bear named ALGEE

Mental Health First Aid Part 1 - What is it?

mental health first aid Jun 23, 2023

Were you ever trained in First Aid or CPR? Many of us were as a requirement for summertime jobs (think babysitting or lifeguarding), in school, or as a part of workplace training. The ultimate goals are to “preserve life, alleviate suffering, prevent further injury, and promote recovery.”1 As laypeople, we were trained in certain skills to accomplish these goals until more highly skilled help, such as Emergency Medical Personnel, arrived.

I used to lead First Aid, CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) courses when I was in college, graduate school and as a young professional. A recent Harvard Health article states that “Although 65% of people in the United States say they’ve received CPR training at some point in their lives, only 18% of people are up to date on their training.” Still, though, this is MILLIONS of adults who can assist in the case of an injury and preserve life or prevent further injury.  This is huge! We need first aiders to help bridge the gap between injuries and our professional medical system. As the goals state, it can save lives, alleviate suffering, prevent further injury, and promote recovery. 

Similar to the First Aid just described, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is designed to help people understand and respond to mental health crises. The program was created in Australia in 2000 (thus the mascot for Mental Health First Aid being a koala bear!) and has since expanded to more than 25 countries around the world. The expansion and adoption across the globe can largely be credited to attention to research, evaluation, and continual review and updating of the training curriculum. MHFA courses are designed to teach people the skills necessary to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and addictions. The program is designed to give attendees the confidence to offer help that is suitable in the moment, while guiding a person toward appropriate professional support. MHFA courses are not intended to be a form of therapy or a substitute for professional help. Instead, it is about helping people recognize signs of mental illnesses and the resources they can access.

MHFA courses include the following topics:

- Identify signs and symptoms of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use

- Learn strategies for how to offer support

- Promote that recovery is possible for mental health and substance use challenges 

- Understand the need for professional help

- Learn how to create supportive environments

- Practice how to respond to mental health problems

- Attend to one’s own health and well-being to be in a position to respond as a Mental Health First Aider

Teaching MHFA to leadership teams and work groups is something that I am very passionate about. I have seen the need firsthand, and I can envision a groundswell of adults being trained in MHFA helping to bridge gaps in care just as traditional First Aid has for decades.

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid and search for offerings and instructors in your area, you can visit You can also reach out to me via my contact form with any questions. Two recent articles share about how MHFA can be applied in a workplace and then a perspective from someone who went through a training and how it impacted their life and work in a positive way:

MHFA Case Study: Whirlpool Corp

Personal Narrative: How MHFA skills helped me through my postdoc work

1 American Heart Association. (Accessed 6/20/2023)