Many people access first aid courses to ensure they have the necessary skills should they need to assist someone in a moment of crisis, minor injury or distress.

Types of first aid

First Aid – this is the one most of us are familiar with. It is defined as the initial assistance given to any person suffering a sudden illness or injury, so that they can provide care to save a life or prevent a condition from worsening and help the chances of recovery. Many of us will have learned some form of basic first aid at some point in our lives. It is a great skill to have. Without the knowledge or ability to know what to do or how to assist in an emergency, you could be left standing-by doing nothing, and watch an unfolding situation which will may worsen without help. With even the most basic knowledge of First Aid you could be the person who makes the difference between life and death for someone.

Psychological First Aid – this is an intervention provided by first responders or disaster event workers. It is delivered by mental health and other appropriately trained/qualified response staff. It is an evidence-informed approach to help children, adolescents, adults, and families in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. People who have been affected by a disaster or traumatic incident, whether they are survivors, witnesses, or responders to such events, may struggle with or face new psychological challenges following the event. The aim is to help people cope and ensure they can access the appropriate support during and after critical life events.

Mental Health First Aid – this on the other hand is perhaps the lesser well-know type of first aid. It is about providing help to someone in the event of them developing a mental health problem or worsening of an existing mental health problem or at risk of suicide. Training in mental health first aid is aimed at members of the public and just like first aid the intention is to assist and offer immediate support in a developing mental health crisis and not to provide treatment or diagnosis. It teaches members of the public and work colleagues how to offer initial support and advice until the person receives the appropriate professional help if required.

The main aim is to provide early assistance in ‘here and now’ situations.  This could be in the workplace, at the cinema, in the supermarket – anywhere really.  Mental Health First Aid is designed for delivery in diverse settings. Some organisations have really engaged with this excellent training and have a named Mental Health First Aider just like they have a traditional First Aider.

The course teaches you to look out for the most common signs of distress and how to help someone in need.

Mental Health First Aid is about…

  • Comforting someone who is in distress and helping them feel safer and calmer.
  • Recognising the symptoms of mental health issues.
  • Assessing immediate needs and concerns.
  • Protecting people from harm if it’s safe to do so.
  • Providing here and now emotional comfort and support.
  • Listening to the person and really hearing what help they need at that time.
  • Helping people obtain information, services, and social support as appropriate to your knowledge and ability.

Mental Health First Aid is not….

  • Something only professionals do.
  • Professional counselling or therapy.
  • Encouraging a detailed discussion with the person of the event that has caused the distress.
  • Asking someone to analyse what has happened to them.
  • Pressing someone for further details on what happened.
  • Pressuring people to share their feelings and reactions to an event.

Active listening is a key component of mental health first aid.

  • Actively concentrate on what the affected person is saying.
  • Do not interrupt or try to assure them that everything will be all right.
  • Make frequent eye contact and ensure that your body language signals that you are listening.
  • Gently touch the hand or shoulder of the affected person, if appropriate.
  • Take time to listen when people describe what happened. Telling their story will help some people understand and eventually accept what just happened.

Donna from the LLTTF team recently completed a MHFA course, she had previously completed the ‘suicide safe talk course’ while working in her NHS post. She went on to complete the MHFA training course because she had previous experience when being in the company of people who were suggesting suicide and she wanted to make sure that she was saying and doing the correct thing should she ever need to again in the future.

While Donna is not trained to offer counselling, by completing the MHFA training she can offer immediate care and support. She has also become aware it may include follow up, and how to ensure that the person/s know you will have to inform the appropriate people/services to ensure they get the correct support required in a crisis.

Donna described how the course gave her the confidence to ask the appropriate questions required and to ensure that she pointed out that she wasn’t qualified to offer any clinical support but that she could help contact emergency services should further assistance be required.

Elysabeth Williams from ‘Connect 5 Training’ works with companies and individuals to create better conversations around our shared humanity and well-being. Connect 5 Training aims to compliment mental health first aid and focuses on improving the nations well-being and teach everyone that ‘mental health’ is not ‘mental illness’. Connect 5 aims to share the human experience of mental health, up skill each other and see mental health through a different lens.

They do this by working with people who work in various ‘helping roles’ which can be anything from debt advisors to people working with ‘face to face’ roles, who have everyday conversations with people and have human problems but may not feel equipped to deal with these conversations as they arise.

Elysabeth wants to break away from the thought that you can only help people or have these conversations if you have professional qualifications, as most people in some capacity work in a ‘helping role’ and need to be able to understand and use proactive steps to help others.

Through Connect 5 Training Elysabeth explains she works with two models. “Mental health can be complex, but through training if you open people’s minds to the thought that whoever you are you have a role in mental health; mental health is not just the absence of illness but is positive mental health”.

Connect 5 Training uses the 5 steps to well-being model –  and the Five Areas CBT model which is in an accessible and practical way for people to engage, teaching them how to minimise stress by helping them to understand feelings and what you need to do to feel better.

“Adult education is an art, by bringing different people together to learn, we can bring creativity and flexibility in the system to transform education” explains Elysabeth from Connect 5 Training.

Connect 5 Training implements their training through finding local leads such as public health leads who have a mandate to promote mental health for all. They train people in Connect 5 and give them what they need to deliver the training. They work as a bridge and use training and LLTTF resources and ideas of self-help to help people support others in a ‘democratisation of psychology’ , which means to make self help tools accessible for all, to improve public mental health.

We hope you have enjoyed this short blog on MHFA, click here for our resource, ‘I Feel So Bad I can’t Go On.’ For more advice on urgent help click here.

To access mental health first aid courses, visit To learn about delivering LLTTF courses visit

The Living Life to the Full Team.

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