PFA & MHFA: What are the differences?

We often meet individuals who want to help after a school shooting or other community tragedy. People are hurting; not just physically but emotionally as well. They want to help their community and sometimes offer “I have been trained in Mental Health First Aid.”

It is important to understand which protocol is best suited to meeting the needs of those impacted and not inadvertently causing more harm. This can be difficult if one does not understand the intended uses and differences of two common mental health support teachings.

Psychological First Aid (PFA) is a technique for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident or disaster. PFA is designed to reduce the occurrence of Post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI; an injury to one’s psyche that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event).

The basic principle of PFA is that, in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic event, support from a trained compassionate individual may aid in long-term recovery. PFA is not focused on any mental health diagnosis and works to prevent change from occurring.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) aims to teach participants how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems. MHFA educates people about how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue. The idea being that providing MHFA offers initial support until appropriate professional help is received or until the mental health crisis is resolved.

MHFA has a broader focus. Mental health first aid is the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of a mental health problem, or in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional help is received or to crisis resolves. Thus, it includes the full range of developing mental disorders and associated crises. In other words… dealing with a person who has an existing/developing condition.

To learn more, check out this video: