Mental health first aid courses

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If someone close to you breaks a leg or suffers a burn, you probably know enough basic first aid to help them until medical help arrives.

But what if someone close to you is having a mental health crisis — do you know how to help them?

Mental health first-aid courses are designed to give people the knowledge about how to help someone close to them in need.

The first courses of this kind were developed by Betty Kitchener and Tony Jorm in 2000 in Canberra.

Mental Health First Aid Australia (MHFA) now trains instructors to run the first-aid courses around the country, often in conjunction with organisations such as TAFE or the Red Cross.

Maxine Griffiths from Mental Health Carers Tasmania (MHCTas) said the more people who had mental health first-aid training, the more it would help break down stigmas.

“It’s a difficult topic [but] it’s not as hard as it sounds to provide support to a person,” she said.

“If we just had that little bit of knowledge about how to go about talking to someone and refer them on, I’m sure it’s going to help people feel a whole lot better than if they didn’t have that information.”

Mental Health First Aid Australia action plan

  • Approach, assess and assist with any crisis
  • Listen and communicate non-judgmentally
  • Give support and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage other supports

Many workplaces and community organisations require someone on the team to have a current physical first-aid certificate, and Ms Griffiths said this should be the case for mental health first aid as well.

“Mental health is everybody’s responsibility, and the more informed we are, the more we’re able to carry that responsibility,” she said.

“The course helps people work out what to say, what to do, how to refer the person on to more specialised support if that’s what the person wants.

“You’re not trained to diagnose, you’re not trained to be the expert, you’re just trained to know how to broach the subject with someone and how to refer them on.

“It also teaches you to stay calm, what to say and when to say it, and it also helps you get support for you.”

MHCTas offers free courses to people who are in caring roles supporting people with mental health issues to help get them up to speed with the best ways to help someone.

“The reality for many carers and families is that they don’t often get the right information,” Ms Griffiths said.

“There’s an assumption that they might know, but … if there’s a person with a mental illness in our care it doesn’t mean we know all the ins and outs about that particular illness, what to look for, how to provide good support.”

Find a course near you on the Mental Health First Aid Australia website.

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