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Mental health first aid

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Mental health first aid (MHFA) refers to training programs that provide skills to help identify and respond to mental health situations in the community.
  • The aim is to educate more Australians about mental health to help people help others get the right mental health diagnosis and treatment without delay.
  • Doing MHFA training can also help you know what to do in a crisis.
  • MHFA programs are suitable for any adult who is committed to improving the mental health of their friends, family and community.
  • Similar to a physical first aid course, mental health first aid provides skills and systems to help you know what to do in a crisis, and gives you the tools to identify early signs of mental illness.

What is mental health first aid?

Mental health first aid (MHFA) refers to training programs for members of the community. People complete an MHFA program so that they can provide support and guidance to anyone who experiences a mental health problem, or is going through a mental health crisis.

Just like physical first aid, mental health first aid provides help until the person receives professional care or until the crisis resolves.

MHFA training courses were first established in 2000 and have grown since then. This is due to the rising need for mental health support — every Australian is likely to know someone with mental health challenges.

What type of issues can MHFA help with?

MHFA courses can offer support for a range of mental health topics, such as:

An MHFA course can also help you learn to identify signs and symptoms of mental illness, and how to maintain good mental health self-care.

There is a wide range of MHFA training courses, from age-specific courses (such as teens, children, adults and older people) to situation-specific courses (such as the workplace, school or community). There are courses for the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community. There are also introduction courses for the general community.

Recognising mental health problems early can improve outcomes for everyone concerned, and help people get the right treatment by the right mental health professional — this is called early intervention. General practitioners (GPs) are a good place to start for early intervention. A GP can make an initial assessment and refer people for specialist services (such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist), based on their needs.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What does MHFA training involve?

Accredited MHFA programs are created by mental health professionals and people with lived experience of mental illness. Your instructor will be trained and qualified in the specific course that you take, whether that be a general course or for a specific age or community group.

There are a range of courses so you can choose one that suits you. Some are done face to face, others are done in an online format. Hybrid or blended courses (which are partly face-to-face and partly online) are also available. Not all courses are provided in all areas across Australia, so if you prefer a face-to-face or hybrid course, check what's available in your area.

The courses focus on providing practical skills to help you in real life situations. They teach you how to recognise a mental health problem, and how best to react when someone near you has a mental health crisis. A MHFA course can help you create an action plan, so you know how to respond when a situation arises. The course can also help you to broaden your general knowledge of mental health issues, as well as prevent unhelpful stigma. It will teach you how to support people around you to seek mental health help when they need it.

Who can perform MHFA?

MHFA programs are suitable for any adult who is committed to improving the mental health of their friends, family and community.

MHFA courses are available for individuals as well as institutions or groups. Some workplaces offer MHFA courses — ask your human resources or wellbeing officer if a course is offered in your workplace.

How can I access an MHFA course?

A list of MHFA courses can be found on the Australian Red Cross website, and on the Mental Health First Aid Australia's course calendar. You can choose a course that's right for you, and find a location, date and type (face to face, hybrid or online) that works best for you. Once you select the course that's right for you, you can sign up using the contact information on the site.

Resources and support

For resources on specific MHFA topics, explore Mental Health First Aid Australia's blogs.

Icare NSW has a factsheet on MHFA courses.

There is also information for specific community groups:

Check the healthdirect Australia list of Australian mental health services and read more on low cost or free mental health services.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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