#WorldMentalHealthDay – psychological and mental health first aid

mental illnesses. it is a silent destroyer, the leading cause of disability in Canada. approximately 20% of all canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime – that’s 1 of 5 people you know. and many are still left undiagnosed, untreated, unknown.

since 1992, october 10th marks a day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy. this year’s theme – as determined by the world federation for mental health – is ‘dignity in mental health-psychological & mental health first aid for all‘.

i’m going to highlight the fact that this theme is not only important for mental health sufferers, but also (arguably more importantly) for the people in their social/support network.

often, the case is that we know someone who is struggling from a mental illness but do not how to approach the situation: what should we say/not say? what kind of support do we give? how far is too far? the psychological first aid (PFA) and mental health first aid (MHFA) methods are two ways YOU can make a difference and help – don’t just be a bystander, take action.


what is PFA?

  • “… involves humane, supportive and practical help to fellow human beings who have suffered a serious crisis event.” (WHO, 2011)

main themes of PFA (WHO PFA guide, 2011):

  • non-intrusive practical care and support
  • assessing needs and concerns
  • helping people to address basic needs
  • listening, but not pressuring people to talk
  • comforting and helping people feel calm
  • helping people connect to information, services, and social supports
  • protecting people from further harm

look, listen, link

Look, Listen, Link


what is MHFA?

  • “the help offered to a person developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem, or in a mental health crisis. the first aid is given until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves.”
  • typically offered by someone in the person’s social network or someone who works in a human service occupation

why MHFA?

  • mental health problems are common
  • many people are not well informed
  • many people with  mental health problems do not get adequate treatment, or delay in getting treatment
  • there is stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems
  • people with mental health problems may at time not have insight
  • professional help is not always available
  • mental health first aid has been found to be effective

the ALGEE action plan



what else can you do?

  • let the person know you are concerned and that you are willing to help
  • encourage the person to talk
  • actively listen
  • treat the person with respect and dignity
  • give the person hope for recovery


  • tell them to “snap out of it” or “get over it”
  • trivialize a person’s experience by pressuring them to “cheer up”
  • belittle or dismiss the person’s feelings
  • speak in a patronizing tone
  • try to cure the person or try to answer their problems


“We are all capable of providing physical, psychological and mental health first aid in an emergency – don’t be a bystander, be a first aider!” – World Dignity Project


and remember, advocate to promote awareness! #endthestigma


source: world federation for mental health – world mental health day (+ report)