Every day we hear more and more about the importance of using different types of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and demonstrating behaviors that help protect us from COVID-19.  During these unprecedented and most uncertain times that we are living in, we are told to cover our mouths and noses with face masks or shields, wash our hands often, use hand sanitizer, and comply with social distancing protocols to keep 6 feet apart to maintain our health as well as to protect the health of others.

However, there is another tool with which we need to equip ourselves: Mental Health First Aid® (MHFA) 2.0 virtual training.  Virtual MHFA is a national certification course that provides the basic knowledge and practical skills that help to either alleviate or shield us from signs and symptoms of behavioral health or substance use challenges.

Its primary goal is to help individuals increase their competence and confidence in identifying, recognizing, and responding appropriately to someone in distress.  First Aiders learn to support an individual until appropriate professional help arrives or until the crisis is resolved.

In this pandemic, many of us are struggling with the thought of social distancing from family, friends, and loved ones.  Whereas social distancing is necessary to decrease the rate of transmission of the coronavirus, Mental Health First Aid® seeks to decrease the social distance created by stigma and stereotypes that continue to prevent everyday people from helping those who appear to experience a behavioral health challenge.

Our new Virtual MHFA course not only addresses the need for individuals to obtain the necessary training, but it gives several opportunities for First Aiders to hone their skills to become better “noticers” and “observers” of risk factors and behaviors displayed by people with whom they are present and/or engaging through a virtual platform.

First Aiders are taught how to use our 5-step ALGEE action plan to assist someone in a variety of situations from contemplating suicide, dealing with trauma, grief and loss, and even overdose from alcohol and other drugs.  Important intervention strategies are learned, and emphasis is placed on the impact of mental challenges on individuals and their families as an integral part of understanding the significance of destigmatizing behavioral health treatment.

Just as face masks and other PPE helps to protect others and keeps you well, our Virtual MHFA 2.0 course helps to build mental health literacy and increased mental wellness within oneself.  Our instructors are often bombarded with letters and emails from First Aiders who have completed the training, stating that they learned so much about themselves, although their original intent for taking the course was to help someone else.

Also, as a result of the course, First Aiders can identify multiple types of professionals and self-help resources for individuals with a behavioral health or substance use challenge. When we know better, we do better.  To ensure our survival, we’ve got to help each other out.

Just like the hashtags we have seen and heard throughout our time in quarantine, #WeAreInThisTogether; #YouAreNotAlone!  Virtual Mental Health First Aid® helps us to take care of ourselves and others by establishing protective factors, those attributes that help individuals deal more effectively with stressful events and creating self-care plans that include activities and practices that promote health and wellbeing.

Preparation is key! Whether we are gathering the necessary supplies for quarantine or building key skills for intervention, most individuals will be able to manage challenges more quickly and more efficiently if they are prepared.

Are You Protected & Prepared?

Individuals interested in becoming a Certified Mental Health First Aider® will complete a 2-hour, self-paced course before participating in an instructor-led virtual Zoom training at no cost to you. They will be counted amongst 39,000+ First Aiders who live, work or study in the City of Philadelphia, who are now prepared and have the Super Skills necessary that just might save a life!

Sign up to receive updates on the virtual MHFA course and find out when in-person sessions will resume, please click on the link below.

About the Author: Shemiah Cooper is the Health Program Manager for Mental Health First Aid® at the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services