How First Aid for Mental Health Problems Can Save People

Mental Health


Many people still know the basics of first aid from courses like the ones offered by Skills Training Group: treating wounds, stable lateral position, resuscitation – i.e. life-saving measures, for example after an accident. But what if someone has anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, or suicidal thoughts? Few people are prepared for this.

In Germany, more than one in four adults is affected by a mental illness every year, according to the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics, and Neurology. Worldwide, every third person in need of treatment suffers from a mental illness in the course of his life, says Bettina Busch, Chairwoman of the Eckhard Busch Foundation in Cologne. “Among young people, suicide is the second leading cause of death.”

The corona pandemic is making the situation worse. “There are currently two groups that we can distinguish. On the one hand, the people who were previously affected and for whom the problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic. On the other hand, there are people who now suffer psychological problems due to their fears.” The former is shown by the German Depression Barometer. The second is the Nako Health Study. This makes it all the more important to be able to deal with those affected, recognize signs, and know where to get help. This is exactly where a mental health first aid course comes in.

How do we deal with people who express suicide?

Even regardless of the corona crisis, the course is absolutely necessary, says Bettina Busch. “Most people don’t know much about mental health. There is often great helplessness. How do we deal with people who express suicide?” The topic is often pushed aside, according to the motto: “Someone with competence should rather do that.”

This is exactly what the MHFA courses – Mental Health First Aid are all about: developing one’s own competence that gives security in dealing with those affected. Become a mental health first responder yourself. The idea comes from Australia and was developed in 2000. In Germany, the courses have only been available since October. Professor Michael Deuschle from the Central Institute of Mental Health is the initiator and leader of the project, together with Tabea Send and Simona Maltese. It is very important to him to say: “First responders should not diagnose and should not treat. It’s about finding out when something is wrong. In the course, you learn to recognize key symptoms and how to address those affected.”


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The right tool to address and give qualified advice

In the beginning, it’s all about mental health in general. Subsequently, the most common mental disorders are discussed: depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, and addictions. How do I deal with those affected? How can I help in crisis situations, such as suicidality in people with depression or aggression in other illnesses? “The course is intended to teach the right tool for responding. Participants learn to give qualified advice,” says Deuschle. “The aid system is explained to them: Where are local contact points? Where can an affected person present himself or herself so that he or she can be diagnosed and where he or she can seek treatment? So they learn to deal competently with those affected and to encourage them to seek professional help.”

The courses work with role plays, discuss case studies and learn rules of conduct. An example: In depression, for example, depression, joylessness, and lack of drive are among the typical symptoms. People with depression are usually limited in their functions. They no longer live up to their roles in family and career. A first responder learns to recognize these patterns. Then it is better to address it once too often than once too little. It’s better to respond than to wait – “that’s the attitude conveyed in the course,” says Deuschle.

People in crisis should seek treatment as early as possible

It is particularly important that people with mental health problems seek treatment at an early stage. “When people with depression start treatment late, the risk of attempting suicide is higher. In the case of psychosis, the social consequences are less favorable,” says Deuschle. “So the earlier treatment starts, the more the prognosis improves.”

It is also important for relatives to find a way to deal with those affected. This could reduce helplessness, says Deuschle. “Actually, almost everyone knows someone with mental disorders,” says the doctor. Nevertheless, one has a discomfort towards those affected. “You’re worried you’re doing something wrong. You don’t know how to address the issue. There is also a lot of shame and stigmatization involved. This is a social effect. We want the stigma to be reduced by the courses.”

Anyone who would like to continue to deal with the topic of “mental health”, perhaps also needs advice, but does not have the opportunity to get professional help, will find guidelines on the program’s website for dealing with those affected on various topics, such as eating disorders, non-suicidal self-harming behavior – or psychological stress during the corona crisis. However, people who are in crisis should always seek professional help.