top of page

Mental Health First Aid is CPR for the Brain

By Shaina Fawn, LCSW

It is estimated that 475,000 people die of cardiac arrest every year in the United States, making it the nation’s number one cause of death. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving procedure used when someone‘s heart stops working. The biological function behind CPR is to ensure that blood flow to the brain continues even when a person’s heart has stopped functioning correctly. One of the crucial factors in saving a life by using CPR is to act quickly. In fact, for every minute that passes without CPR, a person’s survival rate drops by 10%. After 4 minutes without CPR intervention, the person’s brain starts to experience oxygen loss, resulting in brain damage.

Anyone can be trained in CPR, and many employers require CPR training as part of their onboarding. Estimates suggest that 50% of American workers are currently CPR trained. In addition, the American Heart Association has initiatives and outreach to increase the number of people who could be bystander CPR providers to save more lives.

Attention to mental health has traditionally been overlooked and highly stigmatized; however, the Covid 19 pandemic has made it so that we can no longer ignore this vital aspect of our health. Studies have found that 4 out of 10 adults in the United States reported experiencing an increase in depression and anxiety during the pandemic. Estimates have found that one in five American adults lives with a mental health diagnosis. Suicidal ideation has also risen since the pandemic, raising the concern of a potential increase in suicide deaths in the near future. Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States; however, it is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10–34. When substance abuse is factored into the equation, the picture becomes even bleaker. Before the pandemic w,e saw that roughly 841,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. Alcohol and substance abuse increased dramatically during the pandemic, and during the first year more than 99,000 Americans died due to drug overdoses. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis unlike any we have ever seen. As we move out of the acute phase of the Covid pandemic, we are likely to see even more people struggling with substance use, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Mental health and substance abuse crises are the brain’s equivalent of cardiac arrest. If rates of CPR-trained individuals are low, the number of people that can respond appropriately to a mental health or substance abuse crisis is even lower. As bleak as that sounds, there IS something that can be done. The answer is Mental Health First Aid, and like CPR anyone can be trained!

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Like CPR, it is essential that when we respond to a mental health emergency, we do so early to prevent more serious issues from developing. Mental Health First Aid is a training course that gives anyone skills to provide initial help and support to someone experiencing a crisis or substance abuse emergency and help connect them to the appropriate care. In addition, MHFA is designed to take the fear and hesitation out of talking about mental health by equipping participants with skills to develop non-judgemental listening and reassuring people in distress.

The course was originally designed in Australia in 2001 by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm. The program was brought to the United States in 2008 by a partnership between the National Council for Behavioral Health and the Maryland Department of Mental Health. Since then, the program has trained more than 2.5 million people and 15,000 instructors.

MHFA courses are offered in-person, online, and in a blended format. The course generally takes a day to complete depending on the format selected. The course covers:

  • The common signs and symptoms of mental illness

  • The common signs and symptoms of substance use

  • How to interact with a person in crisis

  • How to connect the person with help

  • Expanded content on trauma, addiction, and self-care

  • Education of signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.

  • Discussion of multiple professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction.

  • Development of confidence in and the likelihood of helping an individual in distress

  • Coaching on how to dismantle mental health stigma

If you are interested in learning more about MHFA or scheduling a training for your agency or organization, contact Shaina today at You can also visit


30 views0 comments


bottom of page