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Most of us are familiar with what to do for a medical crisis or less urgent problems such as colds, bruises, or cuts. However, psychological hygiene and mental health first aid are not commonly taught or talked about; as a result, not many know what to do if someone they know feels anxious, depressed or is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Mental health first aid is what to do in a crisis or when someone is experiencing mental health issues, while psychological hygiene includes the daily practical things we do to maintain good psychological health. Below are a few basic steps that you can take to begin to learn mental health first aid.
Mental Health First Aid
- Become familiar with symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychosis so that you will be able to spot them when you see the signs.
- Ask about suicidal and homicidal thoughts and intentions. It is a myth that asking about suicide causes it; instead, asking about it may save someone’s life.
- Respond in a caring non-judgmental manner that avoids shaming or invalidating the person’s experience.
- Attempt to instill hope by expressing things will improve and there is help.
- Encourage self help or other support options.
- Encourage professional help and seek it out with them or for them if their safety is threatened.
Visit the Arizona Department of Health Services Division of Behavioral Health Services website to learn about the Mental Health First Aid classes they offer.
- Mindfulness: Research has shown that people report being happy are able to focus on the present moment while people who are anxious are usually future oriented and others who are depressed are ruminating over the past.
- Exercise: Exercise has been shown to be as effective at treating anxiety and depression as medications. Research has also demonstrated an exercise dose effect for anxiety and depression. Exercise that is of longer duration (45-60 min) but less frequency (3-4 days out of the week) is better at treating depression while exercise that is of shorter duration (20-30 minutes) but more frequency (5-6 days out of the week) is better for anxiety.
- Sleep: For optimum brain performance and health, sleep is absolutely necessary. Everyone has a different amount of sleep they need to feel fully refreshed. An easy way to find out what your target number of hours to sleep is to take a day (or couple) and wake up naturally without an alarm clock. This will give you a good estimate of how many hours of sleep your body needs.
- Nutrition: Our body needs food to nourish not only our muscles but also our brains. Consuming healthy foods on a regular basis will not only improve physical performance but enhance your mental skills.
- Social Support: Resilience research has shown that the one most important buffer for adversity and stress in children is social support, which is the perception of one committed, supportive adult. For adults, social support is healthy adaptive way to manage stressful events and to hear outside perspectives.
- Play: Playing is a great way to relax and to connect with your family or friends. It is also important to find a healthy balance between play and work. Kids tend to focus more on play and less on work, which can get them into trouble with poor grades or by simply not doing their chores. Adults, on the other hand, tend to focus more on work and play (engage in relaxing activities) less, which may lead to burn out, family conflict/estrangement, and high levels of stress.