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Mental Health First Aid Model

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an evidence-based, early-intervention education approach that trains community members to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis. MHFA has several courses including MHFA for Rural Communities. This intervention can increase the capacity for mental health crisis intervention in rural communities for both the general public and subpopulations with unique mental health needs.

MHFA is offered as an 8-hour training where participants learn about recovery and resilience. The course covers topics such as risk factors and warning signs for mental health conditions and resources to help individuals experiencing a mental health challenge. MHFA provides information on several mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Participants also learn about the MHFA action plan that can be used to offer the best support to someone experiencing a mental health challenge. Participants can test their knowledge of the MHFA action plan through role play, scenarios, and activities. The MHFA action plan has five steps:

  1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  2. Listen nonjudgmentally
  3. Give reassurance and information
  4. Encourage appropriate professional help
  5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies

MHFA is appropriate for a variety of audiences within rural communities including, for example, teachers, military families, nursing home staff, and farmers. In northwestern Oklahoma, one educator leveraged her MHFA training to raise awareness about depression and suicide risks among farmers. For more case studies and success stories about MHFA in practice, see the National Council for Mental Wellbeing's MHFA News & Updates.

Implementation Considerations

It is important for rural programs to gain support for the implementation of the MHFA program in the community. Offering free classes to local leaders, law enforcement, and faith-based and school organizations can help gain support and buy-in for the program. Rural programs may also rally for legislative support for improvement and investment in mental health programming.

When choosing MHFA instructors, rural programs should consider identifying instructors that represent their community's geographic and cultural makeup. Rural community members can also undergo training and certification, including a rural designation, to teach MHFA. To ensure accessibility of the course, rural programs may want to consider placing bilingual MHFA instructors in areas where more than one language is spoken.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

The Impact of Mental Health First Aid
Features a Mental Health First Aid instructor discussing her experience starting an MHFA program in rural Oregon, how the program works, and why the training is effective.
Citation: Putting It Together Podcast
Organization(s): Northwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network
Date: 10/2023