Skip to content

First-Aid for Mental Health Emergencies

Mental Health Emergency Preparation

If you are one of the millions of people trained in CPR, you probably know exactly what to do if you see a stranger suddenly clutch her chest and collapse. But what if, instead, that same person began having a debilitating anxiety attack? Here are some expert tips on how to provide mental health first aid in the event of a psychiatric crisis.

Taking action

Few people know how to react to a mental health emergency. Most of the time, our default response is to ignore the situation or simply walk away. In an effort to change this, one organization is trying to make mental health first aid training as common as CPR .

Since 2016, the National Council for Behavioral Health has trained hundreds of thousands of people to recognize and intervene when someone is suffering from a substance abuse disorder or mental health problem. Usually taught as part of an eight-hour course, the lessons include basic approaches you can use to help friends, family and colleagues cope with a psychiatric crisis.

A simple, straightforward approach

Just as CPR helps people recognize and respond to serious physical emergencies, Mental Health First Aid helps them identify and assist with a mental health or substance use-related crisis. The approach is best represented as a five-letter acronym, ALGEE, which stands for:

A: Assess the odds of suicide or self-harm

L: Listen without judging

G: Give information and reassurance

E: Encourage appropriate professional help

E: Encourage self-help and other appropriate support strategies

By utilizing these strategies, it is possible to constructively intervene with people suffering from anxiety attacks, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, PTSD and even acute psychosis. An 8-hour Mental Health First Aid course involves activities, scenarios and role playing techniques that help people learn how to apply these skills in real-life situations. That said, even ordinary, everyday people can utilize the ALGEE approach to positively engage someone in the midst of a mental health emergency.

Recognizing signs

While appropriate intervention techniques can make a huge difference for someone with a mental health problem, they are only half of the equation. First, you need to know how to recognize signs of a psychiatric crisis. According to the American Psychiatric Association , these generally include one or more of the following:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation

  • Drop in function, whether it's at work, school or sports

  • Thinking issues, including memory problems and concentration difficulties

  • Increased sensitivity to sounds, sights, smells or touch

  • Apathy or the loss of desire to engage in activities that were once pleasurable

  • Feeling disconnected from people, oneself or general surroundings

  • Illogical thinking or exaggerated beliefs about the world or oneself

  • Nervousness or paranoia

  • Unusual or uncharacteristic behavior

  • Sleep or appetite changes

  • Dramatic mood changes

However it manifests, a psychiatric crisis can lead to serious consequences, especially when people feel alone or misunderstood. By learning effective techniques, you can help intervene in a mental health emergency for a more positive outcome that ultimately leads to recovery.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health challenges, contact Foundations today!