#GETLOUD: Mental Health First Aid

If mental illness could be seen on a sufferer, maybe society wouldn’t say “just get over it.” – Lonely Lotus

Just a week ago, I attended a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training course in the local area. You may or may not recall me writing about World Mental Health Day back in October. In said post, I mentioned briefly what MHFA is and what it encompasses. Little did I know that I would be revisiting this half a year later (#ALGEE).

Before I get into specifics, a brief history. The course was developed by professors from the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in 2001. It then spread to different countries, such as Scotland, and of course, Canada. MHFA Canada runs under the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).

DID YOU KNOW: depression is the leading global disability, above any other physical problems

Statistics show that 1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2013). And although the awareness is improving, there is, unfortunately, still stigma attached to mental health problems, which presents a barrier to diagnosis, treatment, and support. We – the people of this world – are in a crisis.

What If Physical Illness Were Treated Like Mental Illness?

Now you may be wondering, what exactly is mental health first aid?

Firstly, I would like to provide a definition:

Health is: “… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization (WHO)

The Health Triangle

Every aspect of you as a being is interconnected – if one aspect falls short, everything else is affected. The triangle must ALWAYS be in balance, and the way to achieve this is through self-care (which is unfortunately neglected by many in this hustle-and-bustle society) – that is a topic for another time.

Okay, back to MHFA. It really is fairly simple to understand, just remember the acronym ALGEE:

  • Assess the risk of suicide and/or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  • Encourage other supports


How this course works is the instructor takes you through different sections of the handbook. For each category of disorder, we learn what it is, the different types, risk factors, how substance use ties in, and MHFA for the specific problem. The general categories are as follows:

  1. Mental Health and Mental Health Problems – general information
  2. Substance-Related Disorders
  3. Mood-Related Disorders
  4. Anxiety & Trauma Related Disorders
  5. Psychotic Disorders
  6. Resources (including self-care tips)

Having taken an Abnormal Psychology course within the last year, I had some previous knowledge of these mental health problems, so there wasn’t a lot of new information, just increased awareness and understanding. Again, I cannot reiterate enough times the importance of understanding ALGEE for each disorder.

One thing that really struck a chord with me was how to be an effective listener. As a self-proclaimed “great listener”, I realized that sometimes, I wasn’t being one. The instructor handed out this sheet “You are Listening to Me When…” – here are a couple points I want to share:

You are not listening to me when…

  • You say you understand before you know me well enough
  • You have an answer for my problem before I have finished telling you what my problem is
  • You cut me off before I have finished speaking
  • You get excited and stimulated by what I am saying and want to jump right in before I invite your response
  • You tell me about your experience which makes mine seem unimportant

You are listening to me when…

  • You come quietly into my private world and let me be
  • You really try to understand me when I do not make sense
  • You grasp my point of view when it goes against your sincere conviction
  • You gave me enough room to discover for myself why I felt upset and enough time to think for myself what was best
  • You held back the desire to give me good advice

When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words. – Thelma Davis

Just a little bonus thingy here.

From the company that offers this course, I received something called a PASS (Panic, Anxiety, and Stress Support) Kit, small everyday items that can help one manage daily stressors.


The Kit includes the following:

  • PASS Re+Minder Cards – concise mental health advice for quick reminders in times of need (all advice referenced & evidence-based)
  • Stress Star – tense & release grip to release tension in muscles and promote relaxation
  • Ear Plugs – to block/lower uncomfortable background noises
  • Eye Mask – to block irritating/disturbing light for better rest
  • Chewing Gum – to chew for focus and for refreshment, and for those trying to break a habit (PUR gum uses xylitol – doesn’t contribute to rapid changes in blood sugar, which can mimic symptoms of anxiety or panic)

I also added myself a small rubber band. It helps me snap (literally) back to reality when I find my mind wandering – it is a great little tool for mindfulness.

There are so many other aspects to this 2-day course that I wish I could share, so I HIGHLY recommend taking the course. For Canadians, you can get more information here. For those in other countries, here is a list of international MHFA programs offered.

Personal testimony:

Less than a week has passed since I’ve completed the course, and already I have had to use MHFA on somebody, albeit indirectly. A friend who knew I had completed the course disclosed that they had a friend who was contemplating suicide, and needed help on how to effectively deal with the information and situation. Thankfully, I had my handbook with me, and ALGEE on my mind, and was able to talk them through the steps, provide resources, good listening, and support so they could pass the information along to their friend. If it weren’t for the course, my friend probably would not have opened up to me about the situation, and I probably would not have known what to do any better than they did. So, I’m really grateful that the course came at the right moment. One small action can save a life.

And with that, I leave you with one final reminder:

P.S. This week is Mental Health Week in Canada – spread the word, and #GETLOUD!
The only way to raise awareness and to understand mental health is through conversation.