Mental Health First Aid: Urgency and Importance 

Wasim Kakroo

MEDICAL First aid is precisely what it sounds like: the initial attempt to help someone who has been hurt. Many of you know about medical first aid courses, where you learn how to treat bleeding, burns, poisoning, shock, and respiratory crises. However, many of us do not know much about Mental Health First Aid. Mental health first aid is the assistance you provide to someone who is developing a mental health problem, is experiencing a worsening of mental health condition, or is in a crisis related to mental health. You can continue to provide this first aid until the person receives proper professional help or until the crisis has been resolved. Mental health first aid can help people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, psychosis, substance use problems, eating disorders, gambling problems etc. It can also be beneficial if a person is going through a mental health crisis, such as suicidal thoughts and behaviors, self-harm that is not suicidal (sometimes called deliberate self-harm), traumatic events, panic attacks, severe psychotic states, severe effects from alcohol or other drug usage, as well as violent behavior. The idea behind Mental Health First Aid is that individuals should learn how to provide basic ‘first aid' to persons who exhibit indications of mental health distress in the same way that they learn first aid for physical issues.

Why Mental Health First Aid?

Fortunately, more individuals are becoming aware of the significance of mental health. Still, they may be unsure what to do if someone needs help with their mental health needs. Mental health experts are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the mental health of those who already had pre-COVID-19 problems, as well as those who have developed some new mental health issue as a result of the epidemic. Knowing about mental health first aid is of vital importance because of the following reasons:

  1. Mental health issues were already quite frequent in our valley and COVID-19 pandemic has increased their frequency
  2. Stigma is connected with mental health disorders, and many individuals are unaware of these issues.
  3. Professional assistance is not always available because of lack or dearth of professionals in the field of mental health
  4. People often do not know how to help people who are in need of help for their mental health issues.
  5. People suffering from mental illnesses frequently do not seek treatment due to stigma associated or because of various other socio-cultural reasons.

How to provide mental health first aid?

  1. Identify Early Signs 

Observing changes in behavior, whether emotional or physical, can assist in determining whether you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health problem. The first step is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues so that you can determine when it is appropriate to intervene.

Only a qualified expert can diagnose a mental illness, but you may be on the lookout for changes in a person's mood, behaviour, energy, habits, or personality. These changes might indicate a mental health issue.

Among the signs that may suggest a serious issue are:

Strange or odd thinking.

Extreme mood swings are caused by hallucinations, such as hearing or seeing things that aren't there.

Restless, agitated, and disorganised behaviour.

Significant reduction in performance at school or work.

Trouble concentrating.

Substantial decrease in job or school performance.

Substantial withdrawal from friends and relatives.

Ignoring self-care (such as neglecting personal appearance and hygiene, and eating poorly).

Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Self-harm that is not suicidal (deliberate self-harm).

High-risk or harmful behaviour.

Confusion and disorientation.

Emotional outbursts.

Sleep issues.

Changes in weight or appetite.

Becoming quiet or withdrawn.

Substance abuse issues.

Changes in behaviour or feelings of shame or worthlessness that have lasted more than two weeks.

  1. Listen without being Judgmental 

It's difficult to remain nonjudgmental all of the time. We form snap judgements about individuals the moment we see or meet them based on their look, conduct, and what they say. And that's OK. Nonjudgmental listening isn't about avoiding those judgements; it's about not expressing those negative judgments, which may stand in the way of assisting someone in need. When attempting to be there for a friend, neighbour, or coworker, it is critical to have a good attitude and an open mind in order to genuinely be helpful. Use these Mental Health First Aid principles to be an effective nonjudgmental listener to people around you:

  1. Contemplate upon your own mental state.

Before approaching someone with your problems, make sure you're in the appropriate state of mind to discuss and listen without passing judgments. Examine your own mental state to ensure that you are calm, open, and ready to assist a person in need.

  1. Adopt an accepting, sincere, and empathic attitude.

Adopting an accepting attitude means respecting another person's sentiments, personal beliefs, and experiences as valid, even if they differ from your own or you disagree with them. Imagining yourself in the other person's shoes might help you be more honest and empathic.

  1. Use your skills to demonstrate that you are paying attention.

Simple linguistic skills might assist you to demonstrate to the other person that you are attentively listening. This involves asking questions, paying attention to tone of voice and nonverbal clues, using minimum prompts such as "I see" and "ah," and not interrupting the individual to allow them time to convey their thoughts and feelings.

  1. Maintain positive body language.

Positive body language may demonstrate to the other person that you are paying attention and genuinely care. Keeping comfortable eye contact, sitting down rather than standing, sitting beside and inclined toward the individual rather than exactly opposite him or her, and maintaining an open body stance are all examples of this.

  1. Recognize and respect cultural differences.

If you are assisting someone from a different cultural background than your own, you may need to modify some verbal and nonverbal actions, such as the quantity of eye contact or the amount of personal space. Before partaking in any activity, be prepared to discuss what is culturally suitable and practical for the person, or seek guidance from someone from the same cultural background.

  1. Respond in Crisis

Read about various mental health issues, their signs and symptoms so that you increase your understanding and confidence to aid in a crisis – to evaluate and de-escalate a situation, reassure a person in distress, know where to seek assistance, and how to keep yourself safe.

  1. Prevent Things from Getting Worse

A mental health problem, like a physical ailment or sickness, can worsen if not treated or supported properly.

  1. Aid someone in recovering faster

It is critical to seek assistance. The sooner a person receives help, the sooner they can recover or learn to manage their symptoms in a healthy manner and return to their usual life.

  1. Reduce Mental Health Stigma

Almost nine out of 10 persons with mental health disorders are stigmatized. There are rising worries that stigma causes persons with mental health difficulties to get second-class physical healthcare. Talking about Mental Health First Aid may help to dispel common misunderstandings about persons who may be suffering from mental illness, as well as teaching people on how to assess their own mental health.

  1. Encourage Seeking Professional Help

Inquire whether the person requires assistance in dealing with their emotions. A visit to their primary care physician is an excellent place to start if they desire assistance. You may also ask them about their alternatives, especially local and internet services. Encourage them to take action on their choices.

If the person refuses to accept assistance, attempt to figure out why. They may have some erroneous notions about receiving assistance or their alternatives. Make them feel better about obtaining help.

If the person continues to refuse aid, remind them they may contact you if their mind changes. Respect their freedom not to seek help unless you feel they are putting themselves or others in danger.

People who want to receive free professional help especially about their children or adolescents can call at the child guidance and wellbeing centre helpline number 9419683109. This centre is run by IMHANS as a specialty clinic for child and adolescent population where psychiatrists, professional clinical psychologists, mental health counselors, speech therapists, remedial educationists, lawyer etc. work in a team for the benefit of child and adolescent population who are in need of mental health services.

  • The author is a Child and adolescent mental health therapist at Institute of mental health and Neurosciences (IMHANS-K)

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