Mental Health First Aid

We are all familiar with first aid. There’s usually a kit in our workplaces or in our homes. When a physical injury occurs, we find the first aid kit and apply our training or knowledge to help with wound care and cleanup. But what about the wounds we can’t see, that aren’t physical. This is when mental health first aid comes in.  

The Mental Health Commission of Canada suggests that upwards of 20% of the Canadian population is dealing with some form of mental health problem or illness. Mental health first aid training is on the rise and being offered by the Commission and others. The objective is to provide a proverbial “kit” to trainees, a thoughtful method we can use to provide support to colleagues, families and friends who are dealing with something difficult.  

One approach to mental health first aid is the ALGEES acronym:  

A: Approach and assess the situation. Approach the person and begin the conversation with “I am noticing this; do you want to tell me about it?” or “I am concerned, how are you feeling?” 

L: Listen. Most people want to be listened to, understood. Give them the space to speak their mind and offer non-verbal cues that you are listening like nodding your head, smiling or turning towards the person. 

G: Giving Reassurance. Offer encouragement throughout the conversation through statements like “It is understandable that you would feel this way given the circumstances.” or “I can really appreciate this is difficult for you.”  

E: Encouraging support. Most of us are not mental health experts or medical professionals. We do not need to be experts to offer support to others. We can encourage others by asking questions like “Has this happened to you before? What has worked for you in the past?” or “Have you considered speaking to a professional?” 

E: Encouraging other supports. Beyond medical help, we can encourage other forms of support through statements like “Have you considered speaking to your family about this?” or “Have you reached out to your friends?” 

S: Self-care. After offering support, we may need to check in with ourselves. Do we need to consider speaking to someone or seeking professional help? Providing mental health first aid to someone else can have an impact on our own well-being, let’s not forget to apply the same care to ourselves as we have provided to others.  
Many of us are learning to speak openly about mental health challenges. And so, it makes sense that we are also learning the skills we need to offer support and care to those around us. Seeking out the training and resources you need to support others is an important contribution to creating a healthy community.  

If you are currently struggling with mental health challenges there is support available. You can use your Employee & Family Assistance Program or your health benefits to access mental health supports. And the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Regional is available 24/7.