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Rural Health Information Hub

Formerly the
Rural Assistance Center

Mental Health First Aid

Summary 
  • Need: Rural areas face challenges in access to mental health services, including shortages of mental health providers.
  • Intervention: This 8-hour course trains rural community members to recognize mental health and substance abuse issues and learn how to help someone who is developing a mental health concern or experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Results: Numerous studies of this method have found that course participants are better able and more likely to help others regarding mental health issues.
Evidence-level
Promising (About evidence-level criteria)
Description
MHFA logo

Mental Health First Aid is an early intervention public education program that teaches the public how to assist someone experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Mental Health First Aid teaches the skills needed to identify, understand, and respond to individuals who may be experiencing signs of a mental illness or substance use disorder. First Aid is administered until appropriate support is received or until the crisis is resolved.

The training is especially useful in rural communities where access to mental health services may be limited. Rural Mental Health First Aid is a way to build community-level capacity to identify mental health and substance use concerns early and for rural residents to increase their confidence to intervene and refer people to the resources that do exist. Mental Health First Aid is a way to increase the level of baseline knowledge about mental health and substance abuse and to decrease the negative perceptions often associated with them.

Mental Health First Aid was first created in Australia in 2001. The training program has been used successfully throughout Australia, including in rural areas. It has been adapted in 23 other countries, including the United States. Mental Health First Aid USA is managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

Services offered

Mental Health First Aid training is offered through an 8-hour course where participants learn about:

  • Risk factors and warning signs for mental health issues
  • Information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and substance use disorders
  • A 5-step action plan to assess a situation, identify appropriate interventions, and help those in need access mental health services
  • Resources available to help people experiencing a mental health issue

Audiences for this training include:

  • Law enforcement
  • First responders
  • Primary care providers
  • Nursing home staff
  • Schools and teachers
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Employers and the business community
  • Higher education staff and students
  • Military, veterans, and family members
  • Populations working with older adults
  • Policymakers
  • Mental health advocacy organizations
  • Shelter volunteers
  • Families
  • General public
Results

Since 2008, more than one million people across the United States have been trained. Research studies examining this approach have found that participants of the Mental Health First Aid course have:

  • Improved knowledge of mental illnesses and treatments
  • Knowledge of appropriate strategies for helping others
  • Confidence to provide assistance regarding mental health issues

The Rural Monitor article Mental Health First Aid Offers Helping Hand in Rural Communities provides an overview of Rural Mental Health First Aid, with details on the implementations underway in New Mexico and Missouri.

For more information on program results:

Pierce, D., Liaw, S.T., Dobell, J., & Anderson, R. (2010). Australian Rural Football Club Leaders as Mental Health Advocates: An Investigation of the Impact of the Coach the Coach Project. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 4(1), 10.

Sartore, G.M., Kelly, B., Stain, H.J., Fuller, J., Fragar, L., & Tonna, A. (2008). Improving Mental Health Capacity in Rural Communities: Mental Health First Aid Delivery in Drought-Affected Rural New South Wales. Australian Journal of Rural Health, 16(5), 313-318. Article Abstract

Jorm, A.F., Kitchener, B.A., O'Kearney, R., & Dear, K.B. (2004). Mental Health First Aid Training of the Public in a Rural Area: A Cluster Randomized Trial. BMC Psychiatry, 4, 33.

Kitchener, B.A. & Jorm, A.F. (2006). Mental Health First Aid Training: Review of Evaluation Studies. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(1), 6-8. Article abstract

A detailed list of evaluations and publications related to this approach is available from Mental Health First Aid Australia.

Mental Health First Aid USA summarizes the results from Australian studies as well as lists of evaluations underway in the U.S.

Replication

This step-by-step guide is available to help you implement a Rural Mental Health First Aid program in your rural community:

Mental Health First Aid USA offers a directory of courses and instructors as well as information on how to become an instructor. Instructors can obtain a rural training designation.

Contact Information
General Inquiries
Mental Health First Aid
888.244.8980
MHFAinfo@thenationalcouncil.org
Topics
Mental health
States served
National/Multi-State
Date added
June 5, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
July 5, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.