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Mental Health First Aid

According to Safe Work Australia, there should be one first aider to every 50 workers in a low-risk workplace such as an office; one to every 25 workers in high-risk workplaces such as construction sites; and one to every10 workers in remote high-risk workplaces, such as mines.

It is standard now and understood by most employers how important it is to have a designated, trained first aider on site.

Every farm business needs to have at least one first aider.

Today mental health and its effect is openly discussed and accepted as never before. Have you thought about the risk to your business and employees if there was a mental health incident and how you would handle things?

St John Ambulance offers a Mental Health First Aid course, that could prove a useful tool in the box for anyone who finds themselves the first responder in a mental health crisis.

Key points:

  • Recognising a problem – Warning Signs

  • What things you can do to help and intervene

  • Where you can go for help

  • Looking after yourself

A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person's actions, feelings, and behaviours can lead to them hurting themselves or others, and/or put them at risk of being unable to care of themselves or function in the community in a healthy manner (

St John Ambulance Australia runs a 1-day Mental Health First Aid course. There is a 2 hour pre‑training online unit to complete prior to the day (

What can cause a Mental Health Crisis?

1. An actual or perceived negative event occurs, such as –

  • An accident or natural disaster

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Loss

  • Health issues

  • Onset of a mental health problem

2. Needs to be dealt with in a sensitive and proactive way.

3. The mental health crisis could involve –

  • A suicidal attempt or self-harm

  • Harm to others

  • Anxiety attacks

Warning signs: How to recognize and respond to a Mental Health Crisis

1. An inability to deal with simple tasks -

  • Personal hygiene

  • Not eating

  • Eating too much

There may be -

  • Differences in sleep patterns

  • Mood swings

  • Agitated behaviour

  • Abusive behaviour

Perhaps the casualty –

  • Is losing touch with reality.

    • Psychosis. Confusion. Inability to recognize friends or family.

  • Has unexplained physical symptoms.

  • Displays suicidality.

What to do in a Mental Health Crisis

(Listening is an overarching theme of the HEAD Action Plan).

Listen to your HEAD – Action Plan (*see info sheet)

  • Hazards

  • Engage

  • Action

  • Debrief

  • Do not panic!

  • Remain calm.

  • Listen well.

  • Use empathy.

  • Use eye contact appropriately (cultural differences)

  • Use open body language.

    • Non-verbal – nodding

    • Verbal – ‘uh huh’ ‘I see’ ‘I’m listening.’

1. Manage Hazards first - to yourself, others, the casualty

  • Call 000 if you think the situation warrants emergency intervention.

2. Engage with the casualty

  • Introduce yourself.

  • Can I help?

  • What is happening?

  • Has it happened before?

3. Action: Plan with the casualty

  • What has helped before?

  • Help with basic tasks.

  • Do not make promises you cannot keep.

  • Call 000, if required.

4. Debrief

  • Look after yourself.

  • Are you okay?

  • Look for acute stress in the month after the crisis.

    • Any sleep issues? Anger? Difficulty concentrating?

Suicide Intervention

If you suspect the casualty may be suicidal, then – DO NOT LEAVE THEM ALONE! Remember, Hazards!

  • Ask if they are suicidal.

  • Ask if they have a plan.

  • If yes, what is the plan?

  • Do they have means to enact the plan?

  • If yes, call 000 ASAP!

Duty of Care

The priority is safety of all involved - to yourself, then others and then the casualty. If in doubt, ask for help. If no immediate danger, refer the casualty to their GP.

Where to go for help

  • Emergency services

  • Professionals

  • Helplines

    • Such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, Reach out and Headspace.

  • You can google state by state Mental Health Support

During the crisis, self-care is as important as assisting the casualty

  • Recognise you are experiencing stress.

  • Practice deep and slow breathing

  • Adopt a good posture and relaxed position.

  • Talk calmly and slowly.

After crisis response

  • Return to your normal routine.

  • Rest.

  • Eat well.

  • Talk to people.

  • Do not isolate self.

  • It is okay to be happy!!

  • Avoid

    • making life changing decisions, or

    • ignoring adverse feelings, or

    • self-judging

* Click for the St John Ambulance, Listen to your HEAD Action plan. Put it up in your workplace staffroom or office.


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