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A crash course in First Aid Mental Health

If someone suddenly collapsed and appeared to be having a heart attack or if someone was chocking or drowning you wouldn't just walk on by, right? You'd at least call for help or even start CPR if you knew it.

So why is it that when we see obvious signs of mental or emotional crisis in a friend, colleague or even a casual acquaintance, our first reaction is to withdraw? If you’d like to change that, here’s a crash course on Mental Health First Aid.

Before you begin to read further, it would help to take time to read up and understand the basics of common mental health conditions here.

The aims of Mental health first aid:

  • To preserve life where a person may be in danger to themselves or others
  • To provide help to prevent the mental health problem developing into a more serious state
  • To promote the recovery of good mental health
  • To provide comfort to a person experiencing a mental health problem

know-the-sign Know the signs


Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others

Drop in functioning

An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks

Problems thinking

Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain

Increased sensitivity

Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations


Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity

Feeling disconnected

A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality

Illogical thinking

Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult


Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling

Unusual behavior

Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior

Sleep or appetite changes

Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care

Mood changes

Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings

know-the-sign Learn the actions

So, what do you do to provide help to someone experiencing mental health problems? The five-part action plan is known as A-L-G-E-E:


Assess risk of suicide or self-harm (are they serious about it?).


Listen non-judgmentally.


Give reassurance and information.


Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help. You may locate a therapist here.


Encourage self-help strategies You will find some here.

Do note that this is just a preface, and a prelude to responding to mental health signs or a crisis. If you, or someone you know, requires emergency help concerning mental health, you may contact Tata Institute of Social Sciences helpline – iCall – Monday to Saturday, 08.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. on 022-25521111.

You may also email them at:

iCALL is a nationwide telephone and email based counselling service initiated by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and run by trained mental health professionals. iCALL provides emotional support, information and referral services to individuals in psycho-social distress, across the life span and across different gender and sexual identities.

Further reading

Decoding your hunger. Is it physical or emotional? Take the test!

5 things our body tells us about mental health

5 things your dreams tell you about your mental health

Food and mood