Stories from Mental Challenges

Johns Hopkins Is Now Offering a Free Online Course on Psychological First Aid—Here’s What That Entails

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchJune 15, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images / Leland Bobbe

While the world battles 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, another epidemic is more quietly growing steam in the background. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, and experts predict that in the weeks, months, and even years to come, populations will continue to experience an uptick in these mental health issues along with an increase in the substance abuse issues, overdose deaths, and suicides that often accompany them.

Accordingly, you may notice a growing number of friends, family members, acquaintances, and even strangers expressing depressive or anxious thoughts, turning to coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs, or even hinting at suicidal ideation. It can be frightening to find yourself in the situation of having to intervene to ensure a person gets the help they need, but a free course in psychological first aid starting today, June 15, promises to prep you to triage mental health emergencies as the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and threaten livelihoods.

The online class is offered by John Hopkins University and has a 4.8/5 rating from the nearly 8,000 people who’ve reviewed it. In it, psychologist George S. Everly, PhD—co-author of the book The John Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid and co-founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation—teaches his RAPID model for dealing with emergency mental health situations: Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition. (It’s a similar approach to the Mental Health First Aid program developed in Australia by two mental health experts.) According to Dr. Everly, this method—which was born of decades-worth of experience with natural disasters and other widespread crises—is proven to safely transition someone out of crisis temporarily, or “stop the bleeding,” and better connect them with the professional help that they need.

Johns Hopkins’ psychological first aid training will begin with you learning to be a reflective listener. This technique encourages repeating what someone has said back to them in your own words to assure they’ve been heard and that you comprehend their meaning.

The course will then, importantly, teach you how to assess what could be going on with a person, and how to judge the severity of a person’s needs—i.e. knowing whether a person is in immediate physical danger (say of death by suicide or overdose) or if they should be directed to other non-emergency forms of care.

The course wraps things up by preparing you to appropriately intervene depending on the person’s situation, including normalizing the feelings a person expresses, providing reassurance that help is possible, and helping to devise a plan of action to address the issue. Finally, it instructs on how to safely wrap up the interaction, make follow-up plans so as to ensure the crisis moment has passed and the person is not in need of further emergency intervention, and engage in self-care as the aid provider.

Dr. Everly’s course is broken down into manageable weekly time chunks—from 30 minutes to 2 hours—spread out over the course of five weeks. If you’re not sure whether you want to join the 200k+ already enrolled in psychological first aid training, take a look at what happened when one of Well+Good’s editors participated in a similar course, and consider the long road ahead of all of us as we continue to battle a crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes. With proper mental health resources out of reach for an increasing number of individuals who’ve lost jobs and therefore insurance, and providers maxed out due to unprecedented demand, it might be critical that we all pitch in to lift one another up until the worst is behind us.

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