Mental Health first Aid.

The first signs of mental and emotional problems and how to deal with them before they become too serious.

Just like physiological ailments, mental ailments must not be neglected. If they are, they may become serious or even critical. 45% of the population of Australia suffer from mental disorder at some stage in their lives, and this percentage keeps growing. Worse than that – more than a third of our young people go through an episode of mental illness before they reach the age of 25. Many of these people are not aware of their mental condition and 80% of those with mental disorder do not seek counsel to improve their condition, or give up very quickly, thus affecting not only their lives, but also those around them. The sooner we deal with these disorders, the better.

There are several obstacles on the way to treat metal disorders. They are:-

  • Mental ailments are not tangible – we cannot see them or feel the physical pain.
  • There is a stigma about metal disorder and seeing a psychotherapist – most people see it as an embarrassment.
  • The first signs of mental disorder – extreme change of mood, depression, tendency to seclude oneself from others – are sometimes seen as a temporary bad phase, not as something that needs immediate attention.
  • Awareness – people with mental issues are not always aware where help is available for mental health problems, and whom they should contact for this purpose. People such as: GP’s, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses, occupational therapists and social workers with mental health training – all these people can extend help when the first signs of an emotional or mental problem

The organization called “Mental Health First Aid” ( was founded in 2000 in Canberra. The purpose of the organization was to increase awareness of the mental issues and to encourage people to extend help to those who need it as early as possible. This is a not-for-profit, non-government organization that gives mental health first aid courses and also trains people to be instructors in this field. Since 2003 Mental Health First Aid as spread internationally. It aims also to make mental health first aid training a pre-requisite for those who work in people’s services, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, particularly for policemen and women and fire brigade people – those who are exposed to atrocities and are more likely to be hit by traumas.

The signs or mental problems are:-

  1. Depressed mood;
  2. Loss of interest in activities that used to be of interest and enjoyment;
  3. Feeling guilty when they are not at fault;
  4. Feeling worthless;
  5. Feeling suicidal, a tendency to cause self-harm;
  6. Moving more slowly, or the extreme opposite – becoming agitated and unable to settle;
  7. Having sleeping difficulties, or sleeping too much;
  8. Loss of interest in food, or eating too much;
  9. Extreme changes of mood.


If they keep on appearing for a month or more, it means that this is not a passing bad phase and the sufferer needs professional help.


It is important to approach the person with such problem tactfully and confidentially, respect their privacy and dignity. Listen to them patiently, offer support and assistance and encourage them to seek help. It is best to advise them to see their GP, the person we usually go to when we need to discuss personal and intimate issues. The GP will find out if there is a physiological problem that has a bad mental affect, and if the patient needs to see a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychiatrist. The important thing is not to patronize the suffering person, not to try and diagnose their problem but leave it to the professionals. Remember the stigma connected with mental disorder, which is the main obstacle for so many people who do not seek help.