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Mental Health First Aid – what is it?

written by Chris Rippee, JFCS Career Development Center Career Consultant and certified Mental Health First Aider

People seeking services come to JFCS for help during challenging periods of their lives. Laid off or out-of-work job seekers, refugees and immigrants resettling in a new country and/or looking for legal aid, or anyone who walks through our doors looking for help could face significant stress that can impact their mental health.  While JFCS has a team of wonderful counselors and therapists in the Counseling Services department, not every staff member that interacts with clients is a trained mental health professional.

As a result, in order to provide our staff with the knowledge and skill to help clients through life’s changes and challenges, JFCS has begun certifying its staff as mental health first aiders.

Mental Health First Aid was first developed in Australia in 2001 by Better Kitchener, a health education nurse, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health researcher and professor at the University of Melbourne.  Drawing upon their own wealth of experience and a robust body of research, Kitchner and Jorm developed a system that provides individuals that are not mental health professionals with the means to assess and intercede when an individual is experiencing mental health-related challenge or crisis. The system includes support techniques to help clients through a difficult episode while also helping them connect with proper professional services.

Mental Health First Aid uses the acronym ALGEE to guide mental health first aiders in their response: Assess for risk of suicide or harm, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and Information, Encourage appropriate professional help, and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

The first in-house JFCS training was held in June. Seven staff members, including career counselors and members of the front desk and marketing teams, were certified as Mental Health First Aid trainers.  Another training has already been scheduled for October aimed at the JFCS Food Pantry and other staff.

Challenges and changes often bring stress, uncertainty and even crises. You are not alone. Mental Health First Aid is just one other way we’re here to help.