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Making Mental Health First Aid as Familiar as CPR

When somebody is having a heart attack, our first inclination is to call 911. However, when someone has the signs of mental or emotional stress, our first reaction is to withdraw from the situation. Typically, we do not want to address behavioral health issues because they are too personal for intervention or we don’t know what to say.

This is the mentality that the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) wants to change. They have recently trained 50,000 people in their Mental Health First Aid course. It is an eight-hour session that helps people recognize when someone is suffering from mental health or substance abuse and encourages intervention. Laira Roth, the council's project manager for the first aid course, explained that we are more likely to encounter someone who is experiencing behavioral health issues than someone who is facing a physical crisis. In fact, one in four Americans will suffer from mental illness or addiction according to NCBH. In addition, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, with 41,149 deaths in 2013.

Half a million people have taken the Mental Health First Aid Course, including First Lady Michelle Obama. The overall message is that every individual has the ability to help. We will most likely not stop a mass shooting, but we absolutely can prevent something such as a suicide attempt. How? By making a connection with someone who has no one to talk to, suggesting that they seek professional help right way, and by offering ways to make that happen (maybe even helping place the call). Analogous to CPR, these are ways to breathe life into someone who needs help.

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The course uses a 5-letter (ALGEE) acronym summarizing how to note the signs of behavioral health issues and ways to alleviate a situation.

A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

L: Listen non-judgmentally.

G: Give reassurance and information.

E: Encourage appropriate professional help.

E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

For more information on taking a Mental Health First Aid visit:


Luis Gay is a sophomore attending the University of San Francisco, pursuing a Biology degree. He is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.



Bernstein, Lenny. 4Jan2016. “Trying to make mental health first aid as familiar as CPR”. Washington Post. [Accessed 8 Jan 2016]

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