Mental Health First Aid tips & tricks

***A Healthy new year!*** Want to lean tips, tricks and tools for taking care of your mental health and of the one of others?

Here is a summary of some of the things I have learnt from a course I co-organised and participated in at The University of Queensland in January 2018. 

If you are interested in learning further on the topic, have a look at the MHFA website here



A – Approach, assess, and assist with any crisis

  • Approach the person with your concerns in a comfortable environment
  • Focus on the things that you have personally observed – do not speculate on what is happening in their lives
  • Use the less aggressive term “I”, instead of “You”

Examples of ways you can approach people:

“I have noticed that you have not been coming into the office much and that you are not spending as much time with friends as usual. Is there something going on?”

“I have noticed that you have been mentioning being sleepy more than usual and that you often take naps. I’m concerned about your wellbeing. I care about you and want to make sure you are doing well”

Look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, non-suicidal self-injury, or other harm.

Ask “Have you had suicidal thoughts?”, “Have you thought about killing yourself?” in a confident tone. If the person may be about to take their life, don’t leave that person alone. Keep her/him safe, encourage her/him to call Lifeline (13 11 14), and seek emergency medical help if needed.

L – Listen and communicate non-judgmentally

  • Truly listen to what the person is saying
  • Be non-judgemental. You may not understand but you have to be receptive to their feelings
  • Avoid facing the person directly. Sit on a bench side by side or on chairs that are at 90 degrees to help the person feel more comfortable and for the situation to be less confrontational

G – Give support and information

  • Tell the person that mental illnesses and addictions are real medical conditions from which people can and do recover.
  • Give the person practical support: a glass of water, offering to study with her/him, helping the person out at home — anything that you can do to help that person out
  • Don’t blame the individual for his or her symptoms

E – Encourage appropriate professional help

  • There are effective treatments available
  • Encourage the person to talk to her/his GP. GPs can refer people to appropriate professional services, and people are more receptive to the idea of talking to a GP first
  • Suggest a variety of sources of help when encouraging the person to seek for help (e.g. informational websites, social workers, counsellors)
  • Find out the reasons the person is refusing to seek help, and dispel any myths she/he may believe

E – Encourage other support

  • Exercise
  • Relaxation and meditation
  • Participating in peer support groups
  • Self-help books based on cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Engaging with family, friends, faith, and other social networks


Feedback from the UQ MHFA participants

As mentioned above, I co-organised a Mental Health First Aid course at UQ for postgraduate students. Participants learnt how to assist a person with mental health issues or experiencing a mental health crisis.

General outcomes of the MHFA course participants:

  • Increased awareness of signs and symptoms of the most common mental health problems
  • Decreased stigma related to mental health
  • Increased confidence interacting with individuals experiencing mental health issues

Key learnings highlighted by the participants:

  • 1 in 5 (20%) people experience mental illness in any one year in Australia
  • The most common mental health issues are: anxiety disorders, depressive and bipolar disorders, and substance use disorders
  • Mental Health First Aid is useful to learn how to assist a person (e.g. friend, fellow student, colleague or family member) who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis
  • If in doubt, use the term “mental health issue”
  • A key part of being a mental Health First Aider is to observe changes in individuals, recognise the symptoms of mental health illnesses, and open up a dialogue with them
  • Focus on the person’s distress. Just because you would react differently to a situation, does not make their distress any less real. Be non-judgemental!
  • The sooner the person gets help, the faster the recovery
  • If you don’t get on well with the person in distress, ask someone else to check on that person
  • There are a variety of techniques and tools to help people recover from mental health illnesses
  • When you suspect the person may have suicidal thoughts, it is very important to be direct and ask for example “Have you had suicidal thoughts recently? Have you had thoughts about killing yourself?”. Indeed, that way the person only has to answer yes or no, so his/her communication is facilitated
  • If the person refuses to be helped or pushes you back, don’t give up. Let her/him know you are concerned. Let the person know that you are available if she/he would like to have another conversation later. Also, you could ask whether you can check how she/he are doing in a week/ month, so that the person does not feel oppressed by your insistence
  • Ask the individual who she/he would feel comfortable opening up to. If the person is very resistant, you can become a bit more forceful: “I do not feel comfortable being the only person who knows about your mental health issues. I would like to work with you to find someone that you can talk to”
  • There is a student access plan for disability at UQ that provide support to student who experience physical or mental health issues
  • Students can find free and high quality support at UQ – best to contact the UQ Counselling Services

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