What is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)?

MHFA was first developed by Professor Tony Jorm and Betty Kitchener OAM in Australia in the year 2000 with an aim to provide high quality, evidenced based mental health first aid education to everyone.

Regular first aid courses are recognized as improving the public's skills in giving initial and appropriate help at medical emergencies but, unfortunately, most of these courses do not address helping with mental health problems. 

MHFA will ensure that the skills to assist people with mental health problems will spread beyond mental health professionals, and that the program will fulfill its aim of contributing towards improved support, early detection and treatment of mental health problems and reducing the stigma attached to mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid is the help given to someone experiencing a mental health problem before professional help is obtained. 

The aims of MHFA are:

  1. To preserve life when a person may be a danger to themselves or to others;
  2. To provide help to prevent the mental health problem developing into more serious state;
  3. To promote the recovery of good mental health;
  4. To provide comfort to a person experiencing a mental health problem;
  5. To raise awareness of mental health issues in the community;
  6. To reduce stigma and discrimination.

MHFA does not teach people to be therapists. However, it does teach people:

  • To recognize the sign and symptoms of mental health problems;
  • To provide initial help;
  • To guide a person towards appropriate professional help.

Why Mental Health First Aid?

Mental illness is a pressing concern for societies worldwide. Around 450 million people suffer from mental health problems in the world and it is the fourth highest cause of death in global indexes. Depression, a serious and prevalent mental illness, is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Globally suicide is the second leading cause of death among the people between 15- 29 years of old.  

In Bangladesh, the 2003-2005 national survey suggests that 16% adults and 18% children suffer from mental illness. To put this into context, that is approximately 25 million adults and 28 million children suffering from mental illness. According to Bangladesh police report, every year 10,000 people commit suicide in our country. Compare that to only 200 psychiatrists, 50 clinical psychologists and 800 beds dedicated to mental health services in the state level. Altogether they cover only 1% of the estimated needs and the treatment is predominantly based on medical model. The comprehensive treatment model for ensuring effective recovery and full rehabilitation including, social and economic empowerment of the people suffering from mental illness is still absent in Bangladesh. 

More over negative perception and stigma is deeply rooted in people’s mind in relation to mental illness, which prevents people with mental illness to seek professional help. 

People are often ashamed to discuss mental health problems with family, friends and work colleagues. They may also be reluctant to seek professional help for such problems because of their concerns about what others will think of them.

Many people are not well informed. Understanding how to recognize mental health problems and what effective treatments are available is not widespread. As a result people may not know where to seek help or what kind of help might be useful. With greater community awareness, people will be able to recognize their problems and feel more comfortable about seeking professional help.