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Gulf & Main Magazine

Mental Health First Aid: Learn How to Help in a Crisis

Jul 30, 2022 06:56PM ● By Ann Marie O'Phelan

One out of five adults experience mental illness, a change in thinking, emotions, or behavior, or a combination, in any given year. Issues such as depression, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders can affect social, work, and family activities and can impact physical health. When these problems occur in someone close to you, it’s best to be prepared. You can learn how to assess, listen, and reassure so you can be there for your friend, family member, or colleague who is experiencing the challenge. 

That’s where Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) steps in to help those in need. The program, which is administered by the nonprofit National Council for Mental Wellbeing, is a skills-based training course where, for a small fee, participants learn to identify, understand, and respond to mental health and substance use challenges and other crises. They learn how to provide crucial initial help and support. MHFA courses are geared toward the workplace, older adults, veterans, teens, and more. 

Amanda Evans, health educator for the Florida Department of Health, Lee County explains, “Mental Health First Aid for adults teaches participants how to recognize signs of mental health or substance use challenges in adults ages 18 and older, how to offer and provide initial help, and how to guide a person toward appropriate care if necessary.” Adult MHFA is beneficial for employers, police officers, hospital staff, first responders, and caring individuals.  

Youth MHFA teaches participants how to help adolescents (ages 12-18) who are experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge. “The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations,” says Evans. Youth MHFA is beneficial for teachers, school staff, coaches, camp counselors, youth group leaders, parents, and adults who work with youth.  

The Florida Department of Health in Lee County provides MHFA training at no cost to nonprofits and faith-based organizations. (Organizations must cover the cost of the training manuals for each participant.) These eight-hour training sessions are taught in person and include small breaks and a lunch break. The training can be split into two days upon request. Participants earn training certificates that can be submitted to their accrediting board for continuing education credits for participating professions. 



MHFA training teaches participants to respond with the MHFA action plan, known as ALGEE

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm. 

  • Listen nonjudgmentally. 

  • Give reassurance and information. 

  • Encourage appropriate professional help. 

  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.  

For more information, contact [email protected], 239-332-9501, or visit


Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.