Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety

Every firefighter is exposed to a variety of emergency situations – and they can be anywhere, not just in your response territory. Emergency situations can also go beyond the fire call into public safety and deal with individuals who may not be responding correctly to the situation at hand. You may even have a co-worker who doesn’t seem like themselves or a family member who is withdrawing.

The Mental Health First Aid training is an eight-hour course that is informative, productive, and enlightening. One breakaway session had two people whispering to one another.

Don’t trust them.
Why are they looking at you?
They aren’t your friend!

The example showed how people with mental health issues might not realize that they are not responding to a situation accurately or appropriately.

Helping them in a crisis to receive the care they need is the job of everyone in the community, not just the first responder. However, since medical incidents in the fire service are on the rise, a firefighter may find themselves in that situation. Mental health issues can contribute to how people respond to different situations, and the ability to identify and assess what may be going on with an individual can help shape the response to them.

How can first responders identify a mental health issue or a traumatized person? There is a national program that teaches the skills to help triage and respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use, Mental Health First Aid (

This program was created in Australia in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Tony Jorm, a respected mental health literacy professor. Over 20 other countries have licensed and adapted the MHFA Australia program for their settings.

“Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources, and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, and self-help care…

Participants learn the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds an understanding of the importance of early intervention, and, most importantly, teaches individuals how to help someone in crisis or to experience a mental health challenge. “~ Mental Health First Aid website

What courses are good for first responders?

There are eight courses available for Mental Health First Aid – but for the first responder, two of these courses are the most relevant:

Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety: Provides officers and first responders with more response options to help them de-escalate incidents and better understand mental illnesses so they can respond to mental health related calls appropriately without compromising safety.

The key points of this program are to: defuse crises, promote mental health literacy, combat the stigma of mental illness, enable early intervention through recognition of signs and symptoms and connect people to care.

Mental Health First Aid and CIT Training: This course combines the Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety program and the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program ( The course is in-depth because of the CIT component which focuses on building the community development required between public health and public safety.

“Partnership with the community’s public health system is central to CIT. Fostering functional partnerships improves safety in the community and provides an opportunity for diversion into treatment for distressed individuals, leading to long-term solutions and recovery…

Without these relationships, there are missed opportunities due to a lack of meaningful engagement between partners. Understanding that CIT programs are the foundation for developing meaningful collaborations with community behavioral health services, and not merely training for police is key to bridging this gap.”–Mental Health First Aid website

While from the outside the Mental Health First Aid and CIT training appear to be geared for police departments only, in these days of limited budgets many communities are taking a “train them all” approach, requiring fire stations and personnel to be involved in and a strategic part of Crisis Intervention Teams.

What will you learn in a course?

“Just as CPR training helps a person with no clinical training assist an individual following a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid training helps a person assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis such as contemplating suicide. In both situations, the goal is to help support an individual until appropriate professional help arrives…

Mental Health First Aiders learn a single 5-step strategy that includes assessing risk, respectfully listening to and supporting the individual in crisis, and identifying appropriate professional help and other supports. Participants are also introduced to risk factors and warning signs for mental health or substance use problems, engage in experiential activities that build understanding of the impact of illness on individuals and families, and learn about evidence-supported treatment and self-help strategies.” –Mental Health First Aid website

One of the takeaways from the MHFA training is the ALGEE method, a mnemonic device to remember the steps for the mental health first aid process.
ALGEE stands for the following:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm
Listen non-judgmentally
Give reassurance and information
Encourage appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help and other support strategies

These five action steps help the first aid provider to stay on track and provide immediate intervention if necessary in the situation. When multiple people on your team are trained on the same methods, this increases the efficiency of your organization.

Find a course here!

Have you responded to someone with mental health issues? Share them with us.

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2 thoughts on “Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety

  • August 18, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and in no way appear to get one thing done.


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