Covid-19 has brought into limelight the various hidden problems that most Indians face, including untreated mental illnesses. The number of people suffering from mental illnesses has also risen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and other addictive behaviors have been on the rise. This is when psychiatric emergency care comes to play. Psychological and psychiatric first aid is an important skill to be learned by ordinary people, just like learning how to do CPR.

Mental health first aid is what a person is offered when:

  1. a) They are developing a mental health problem,
  2. b) When their existing mental health problem is worsening or,
  3. c) When the person is currently experiencing a mental health crisis.

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What to do as part of Mental Health First Aid before taking someone to the hospital:

Action 1: Approach the person, analyze the situation and assist with any crisis they might be having. Ensure that the person is comfortable with the first aid responder, with the surroundings, and the time.

 Action 2: When the first aid responder approaches the person and listens to them in a non-judgemental manner, it is easier for the person to talk more freely and trust the first aid responder without the fear of being judged for their behavior or thoughts.

The fear of being judged is one of the primary reasons that prevent people from seeking mental health first aid in the first place.

 Action 3: When a person feels like they have been listened to, the next thing they need is support, and in most cases, emotional support is what most people crave. Empathizing with their feelings, helping them with overwhelming practical tasks, and giving hope of recovery can bring a significant difference in a person.

Providing a person with information regarding professional mental healthcare and the if possible, financial means is also part of the mental health first aid plan.

Action 4: The first aid responder is only capable of doing a little help in the beginning. However, they can encourage the person to get the much needed appropriate psychiatric emergency care and professional psychiatric help.

The first aid provider can also inform the person about other options available to them for further help and support. For example, if the person is an alcohol abuser, they can avail the service of Alcohol Anonymous support groups for better recovery after rehab.

Action 5: Encourage the person to use other support measures and self-help strategies, support systems in the form of friends, group therapy, support groups, etc., to have something to fall back on if they falter again in the future.

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Some examples of what to do in mental health first aid:

Suicide thoughts/ attempts

  • Do not make them feel alone
  • Be with them physically at all times if possible
  • Do not take any threats or warning signs lightly at any cost
  • Try to talk and calm them if possible
  • Most people who attempt suicide, think their life is worthless or that nobody cares if they die, making them feel otherwise is very important
  • Helping them to see things in a different light just for the moment might help in bringing clarity
  • Take them to psychiatric emergency care immediately as possible

Anxiety/Panic Attacks

  • Speak to the person, in short, simple sentences about random topics and try to take their attention off the panic attack
  • Help them slow their breathing by breathing with them or counting from 1 to 10
  • Ask for what the person requires; do not make assumptions.
  • Let them know that they are in control
  • Telling the person “concentrate on your breathing, you are in control”
  • Mindfulness meditation exercises can be useful

Self-harm behaviors

  • Take away the harming object if possible
  • Do not keep sharp objects in close proximity/ keep them covered
  • Let the person know that they are not in control for their own good
  • Tell the person that the object is taken away but not about its location
  • Check for cuts, burns, and other types of bruises in the person’s body
  • Check if they are secretive about things after the object is hidden

Alcohol/Drug Withdrawal

  • Take them to a quiet, calm environment with soft lighting
  • Limited contact with people and limited contact with alcohol/drugs
  • Positive and a supportive atmosphere
  • Healthy food and lots of fluids
  • De-addictive psychiatric medications like benzodiazepines to treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizures

The world has seen an increase in mental illnesses like anxiety and depression since the emergence of Covid-19. It is high time that education about mental health and mental health first aid is provided to the population battling these problems.