teen MHFA further information | Mental Health First Aid

Detailed information is detailed below for students, parents, schools and community settings.


Information for Students


The teen MHFA course gives young people the skills they need to recognise and help with mental health problems and crises in their friends, and to get the help of an adult quickly. This course has not been introduced because of any specific problems at your school (or wherever the course is being offered to you). No individual person will be discussed in the course.

Young people will often turn to each other when stressed or upset, and try to help each other, and sometimes take too much on. This course teaches you not to try to take on these problems alone, and when you should get an adult involved.

The course discusses suicide. Some people may find it distressing. Talk to a parent or another trusted adult about it if you’re worried that talking about suicide will make it too hard for you to be a part of the course. However, you should be aware that most people find that even if they have lost someone to suicide, the information in the course makes them feel better, not worse. It is good to know how to help.

If you want more information about teen Mental Health First Aid, this Frequently Asked Questions list should be able to help.

Is it therapy? Do I have to talk about my own problems?

No. The course will only give you the skills to help a friend who is struggling with a mental health problem. It is not therapy. You won’t be asked to talk about yourself or anyone you are worried about. You won’t be taught how to give anyone therapy, either.

What if I’ve tried everything already?

Sometimes it feels like you’ve tried everything to help a friend, and nothing has worked. This course might help you think of new ideas.

But if not, it will also teach you when it’s okay just to continue to be a friend, or try to, and when you will need to get a trusted adult involved to help.

Do I have to do it?

It’s better if you do – you will learn a lot. However, some people think it will be too upsetting to talk about these issues. If you think it might upset you, discuss it with a parent or another trusted adult. You need to talk to your classroom teacher about what arrangements will be made for people who ‘opt-out’ of the course – often this will be a study period in the library or something similar.

If you are being offered the course outside of school, you'll need to talk to the organiser about what you'll be doing if you don't attend the course.

Will I lose marks if I don’t go?

You won’t lose marks in your regular class. There is no assessment of the teenMHFA program. You will only miss out on the course.

What classes will I miss?

Your school will tell you which classes will be replaced by the teen MHFA course. There are three sessions in total.

I don’t know anyone with mental health problems, so why would I do this course?

Mental health problems are very common. About one quarter of young people experience a mental illness each year. You probably have friends and other classmates who have mental health problems and you don’t realise it. You might think they are anti-social or difficult to be around, or not making an effort, or simply behaving strangely. This course will help you understand when they are having real difficulties.

Where can I get more information about mental health problems?

There are many reputable websites about mental health problems. We suggest you visit some of these:

ReachOut! Is a website which has information about mental health, substance use, relationships, legal issues relevant to young people, and other important topics.

beyondblue: the national depression initiative has a website designed for young people which has a lot of information about depression and anxiety and other related issues. You can order resources online or download a lot of different factsheets.

The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria has a great website with lots of information. You can also call them for information and referral. Their new website, 'how far is too far', can help people to understand if they might be exercising or dieting too much.

Kids Helpline offers a phone counselling service and also online counselling for Australians aged 5-25. The website also has a lot of useful information.

Headspace is a youth mental health service with centres across Australia. Find out if there is a Headspace centre near you.

Headspace also offers online and telephone counselling. You can talk to them whether you are worried about your own mental health or that of a friend.

(back to top)


Information for Parents


The teen Mental Health First Aid course gives teenagers the skills they need to recognise and help with mental health problems and crises in their friends, and to get the help of an adult quickly. Young people will often turn to each other when stressed or upset, and try to help each other, taking too much on. This course teaches them not to try to take on these problems alone.

The course teaches young people about suicide. You may wish to discuss this with your child, if there is a risk they will find it distressing. This course has not been introduced because of any specific problems at the school. Mental health problems are very common in adolescents. If there has been a student suicide in the school, be aware this specific suicide will not be discussed, nor will any individual student.

Your child might want to talk about the course. The following can help you to have a conversation if this is needed, and should help you to decide whether or not teen MHFA is right for your child. Your child will bring their manual home after session 3. There are resources for further information in the back and you may want to explore them together. If you wish to learn more now, resources are also provided at the bottom of the FAQ list.

If you want more information about teen Mental Health First Aid, this Frequently Asked Questions list should be able to help.

Will my child learn to diagnose a mental illness or provide therapy?

teen Mental Health First Aid teaches participants to recognise the signs that a friend may have a mental health problem. It does not focus on specific illnesses, but on the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour that show there might be a problem. It does not teach or encourage them to offer each other counselling of any kind, or to try to handle these problems alone. Diagnosis and treatment are the responsibility of properly trained mental health professionals. Participants are taught to seek help from a trusted adult who can get their friend this kind of help as soon as possible.

Will talking about suicide put thoughts of suicide in my child’s head?

No. This is a very common myth.

People who are having thoughts of suicide are usually relieved to have the chance to talk about their feelings, and this also makes it possible for them to get help. Those who are not suicidal will not start thinking about suicide because they have had a chance to talk about it. However, they might feel more able to talk about suicidal feelings in the future if they have had the opportunity to talk about suicide in a safe environment such as school.

If you would like more information, this video of Professor Anthony Jorm, co-founder and Chair of Mental Health First Aid Australia and an international expert on many aspects of mental health, has some insights.

If you would like to read about some of the research he talks about, read this Evidence Summary by Headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

Shouldn’t the teachers be providing mental health first aid, instead of other students?

While some young people will feel comfortable talking directly to a teacher, a parent, or another adult, research shows us that young people often turn to each other in times of stress and upset. Friends often attempt to support each other in ways that mean they try to take a lot on. This program encourages them to get an adult involved instead, who can make arrangements for professional help.

It complements the Youth MHFA course which is available to adults who play a big role in the lives of adolescents (particularly parents and school staff). Staff at your child’s school are undertaking Youth Mental Health First Aid as well, or already have, so the whole school community is equipped to respond better.

My child has experienced mental health problems in the past. Should they do the course?

Some young people with a history of mental health problems feel that this course will be too upsetting to be involved in. Others will want to be involved.

We strongly recommend that you discuss with your child what they feel most comfortable doing, but don’t make the decision for them. They also need to be aware that if they begin to feel upset during the course, they are free to leave and follow up with their counsellor or student welfare coordinator.

However, if your child is currently experiencing high levels of distress and is receiving mental health care, you should discuss it with their mental health professional.

Will students be talking about their own experiences of mental health problems? Are they provided therapy as part of their attendance at tMHFA?

No. The sessions use stories from young people who have experienced mental health problems (in the form of a mini-documentary in three parts featuring teenagers with mental health problems, a scripted short film, and fictional vignettes from the manual. In the program for older students, the scripted film depicts a young man helping a friend who is suicidal, and in the program for younger students, the scripted film depicts a young woman helping a friend who appears to be developing mental health problems).

The course is not therapeutic, nor is it a self-help group. However, participants get the opportunity to ask confidentially to be followed up by a member of the school’s welfare team afterwards (for courses running outside of school settings, other arrangements will be made).

Will this course have an impact on my child’s grades? Which classes will my child be missing out on?

Your child will not be graded on their participation in tMHFA, nor will they be negatively affected by choosing not to participate. They will not lose marks in any classes by being involved in the course. You will need to refer to information provided by the school to see which classes will be missed.

The school regards students’ abilities to effectively assist a friend in need as an important skill, both in high school and beyond.

Are you running this course because of a student suicide, or high rates of mental health problems in the school?

This program is not a postvention program. It has not been introduced because of any specific problems at the school. Adolescence is the peak age of onset for mental health problems and in any adolescent population, there will be a relatively high prevalence of mental health problems.

Some schools will have lost a student to suicide. Even if this is the case in your child’s school, this is not the reason this course has been introduced. No specific student or student suicide at the school will be discussed in the course.

Is my child likely to be upset by the course content?

For a very small number of students, talking about mental health and suicide could be distressing. You may wish to discuss this with your child. However, most find it very empowering to be given the tools to talk about mental health and suicide and help someone in need.

We also emphasise that if someone they knows suicides or has suicided, they are in no way responsible, even if they have tried to help. This can be reassuring to anyone who has lost a friend to suicide and feels guilty about not having been able to help.

What is the teen Mental Health First Aid Action Plan?

The action plan is:
• Look for warning signs
• Ask how they are
• Listen up
• Help them connect to an adult
• Your friendship is important

We simplify it to ‘Look, Ask, Listen, Help Your Friend.’

It is far simpler than the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan taught to adults attending MHFA courses.

What is covered by each of the three sessions in the program for Year 10-12 students?

Session 1: Introduction
Session 1 discusses mental health problems in general. Very little time is spent on discussing signs and symptoms. Instead, we focus on how to tell the difference between transient moods and possible mental health problems.

A mental health problem is major changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which interferes with a person’s ability to do the things they usually do (school work, enjoying time with friends and family), that doesn’t go away quickly. So, if someone is feeling sad, and has done for a couple of weeks, and it is making it hard to do the things they need or want to do, they may have a mental health problem.

We also discuss the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

After session 1, your child might wish to find out more about mental health problems. You may like to explore the following sites with them:

In session one, they watch a video featuring two young people who have recovered from depression, and a video about school counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Session 2: Mental health crises
Session 2 talks about helping a friend who is in crisis, whether because they are suicidal, engaging in non-suicidal self-injury, using alcohol or other drugs, or experiencing bullying or abuse. The Action Plan is introduced for the first time, and applied to a crisis situation.

There is a video which shows a young man helping a friend who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Again, the emphasis is on getting a responsible adult involved.

Participants are told that in a crisis situation it is important to get help right away. It’s best if they can get their friend to agree, but even they can’t, an adult still needs to be contacted. Strategies for doing this are discussed.

If your child has lost a friend to suicide, they may want to talk about it, after this session. The messages we impart are useful for you to reiterate:

  1. No one is responsible for another person’s actions.
  2. Following the guidelines we give them, and getting a trusted adult involved as soon as possible, is a good way to do their best in keeping someone safe.
  3.  If they are feeling guilty that a friend has died by suicide, it’s okay to talk about it – with you, or the school counsellor, or someone else – but it is absolutely not their fault.

If you need more information about suicide, suicide prevention and research, visit:

Session 3: Developing mental health problems
This final session takes a step back and discusses how to help if someone seems to be developing a mental health problem. We don’t talk about specific problems or teach students how to diagnose problems – it’s advice about being supportive and non-judgmental, encouraging a friend to seek help, and knowing when it’s time to get an adult involved.

In this session students also watch two more videos featuring the stories of the two young people in the video in session 1.

This session also talks about how telling an adult what is going on without the permission of their friend. This can be a hard thing to do, but essential, and ultimately the safety and wellbeing of their friend matters the most. One of the people in the video describes her friends taking this very action. She was angry and hurt at the time, but ultimately, she was grateful – because she wanted to get better, and it was what she needed to get to the next step.

Your child will bring their manual home after session 3. There are resources for further information in the back and you may want to explore them together.

What is covered by each of the three sessions in the program for Year 7-9 students?

Session 1: Healthy minds
Session 1 discusses mental health problems in general. Very little time is spent on discussing signs and symptoms. Instead, we focus on how to tell the difference between transient moods and possible mental health problems.

A mental health problem is major changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which interferes with a person’s ability to do the things they usually do (school work, enjoying time with friends and family), that doesn’t go away quickly. So, if someone is feeling sad, and has done for a couple of weeks, and it is making it hard to do the things they need or want to do, they may have a mental health problem.

We also discuss the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

After session 1, your child might wish to find out more about mental health problems. You may like to explore the following sites with them:

In session one, they watch a video featuring two young people who have recovered from depression, and a beyondblue video about school counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Session 2: Mental Health First Aid
Session 2 focuses on learning the teenMHFA Action Plan, and thinking about the best adults to help with a mental health problem or crisis.

There is a video which shows a young woman helping a friend who is developing a mental health problem and some significant stresses in her life. Again, the emphasis is on getting a responsible adult involved. Another video shows the roles of a school counsellor, psychologist and psychiatrist.

Participants are told that in a crisis situation it is important to get help right away. It’s best if they can get their friend to agree, but even they can’t, an adult still needs to be contacted. Strategies for doing this are discussed.

Mental health crises are not emphasised in this course. However, suicide is discussed briefly in this session. If your child has lost a friend to suicide, they may want to talk about it, after this session. The messages we impart are useful for you to reiterate:

  1. No one is responsible for another person’s actions.
  2. Following the guidelines we give them, and getting a trusted adult involved as soon as possible, is a good way to do their best in keeping someone safe.
  3.  If they are feeling guilty that a friend has died by suicide, it’s okay to talk about it – with you, or the school counsellor, or someone else – but it is absolutely not their fault.

If you need more information about suicide, suicide prevention and research, visit:

Session 3: Putting it into practice
This final session allows participants to start practicing their skills. We don’t talk about specific problems or teach students how to diagnose problems – it’s advice about being a supportive friend, encouraging the friend to seek help, and knowing when it’s time to get an adult involved. The session uses a lot of group discussion and small group activities.

In this session students also watch two more videos; both featuring the stories of the two young people in the video in session 1.

Your child will bring their manual home after session 3. There are resources for further information in the back and you may want to explore them together.

How was this course developed? Who decided what should be taught? Do you know that it is effective?

The messages in this course were developed by asking a large group of experts in adolescent mental health about what should be included. This consensus study has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and you can read it here.

The experts included clinicians in teen mental health, young people who have had experiences of mental health problems and are now feeling much better, and experts in teaching mental health promoting messages to young people and the adults who work closely with them.

Who provides the funding for this course?

So far, teen MHFA (the development and initial evaluation) has received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, beyondblue: the national depression initiative, Australian Rotary Health and the Black Dog Ride. A grant from the Jack Brockhoff Foundation enabled us to develop the manual and videos for the Years 10-12 program and a grant from the Myer Foundation enabled us to develop the program for students in Years 7-9. No funding has been received from any pharmaceutical company or other for-profit commercial company.

Funding to receive the program may have been provided by the school itself, or by a community organisation.

Mental Health First Aid is a not-for-profit health promotion charity with deductible gift recipient status. If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to support teen Mental Health First Aid in a disadvantaged school, please click here.

I think my child needs professional help for a mental health problem. What should I do?

There are many options available.

Youth-friendly mental health services are available in many parts of Australia. For example, Headspace Centres are available in many locations. To see if there is one in the area, visit:

If there is no Headspace Centre nearby, call any local hospital or mental health information service to ask for local youth-friendly services. Many family doctors are trained to recognise and respond to adolescent mental health problems, or can recommend a more suitable doctor.

Some young people prefer to talk online or over the phone. Kids Helpline offers phone counselling for young people up to the age of 25.

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Kids Helpline also offers e-therapy. Visit their website at:

Headspace also offer e-therapy at:

It’s important that young people feel they have some control over the type of treatment they receive, so do discuss with them what might be the most suitable.



Information for Schools


teen MHFA is a new course being offered by instructors trained by Mental Health First Aid Australia.
Young people frequently turn to their friends at times of psychological distress. While young people can have reasonable levels of mental health literacy, recognising mental illness and having some understanding of effective treatments, what they tend to lack is the skill to assist.
teen MHFA is a program which teaches young people the minimum skill set to:
1. Recognise the signs of a mental health problem developing
2. Recognise the signs of a mental health crisis, particularly suicide
3. Get a responsible and trusted adult to take over as necessary.

If you want more information about teen Mental Health First Aid, this Frequently Asked Questions list should be able to help.

The training is conducted over 3 sessions of at least 75 minutes each, conducted on 3 separate non-consecutive days, to entire year groups.

What are the benefits?

Research so far shows that students who receive the training show better recognition of mental health problems, greater confidence in offering help, and decreased stigmatising attitudes, and that these benefits are maintained after three months of follow up.

Research will continue over the next several years.

What are the risks?

The school welfare service may experience an increase in demand for services during and after the period in which the courses are run. Anecdotally, schools which have participated in the program so far have reported that this has not created an undue burden and that they are glad the services are being accessed appropriately.

Occasionally a student becomes distressed by the content. This can often be dealt with quite quickly, with a conversation with the school counsellor or other member of the welfare staff. Otherwise referral to an appropriate service may be required. Most people, even if they find the material upsetting, are ultimately glad they attended.

As this course is three sessions of 75 minutes teaching time it requires an 80 minute class period, to allow for stragglers, etc. Depending on the structure of the timetable this can mean some shuffling of classes, which can be a challenge.

What do we need to put in place?

There must always be a classroom teacher present with the teen MHFA instructor in each classroom (or another suitably responsible adult, when the course is run outside of school settings). Ideally, a student welfare officer, counsellor, chaplain or youth worker should also be present in each class, however, this is not always possible. At minimum, the student welfare coordinator or counsellor needs to be available at all times when teen MHFA sessions are being run, in order to attend to the needs of any student who becomes distressed.

What is the time commitment?

Three sessions of 75 minutes each for each class (regular class size – classes can’t be joined together). This can mean making use of double periods or cutting into other classes, but the content does take 75 minutes to get through in each session, not including time for everyone to arrive.

Depending on the structure of the timetable this can mean some shuffling of classes, which can be a challenge.

In addition, school staff need to be trained in Youth MHFA. Not everyone needs to have received the training. Students should be aware of which staff members are willing to talk about MHFA issues.

Prior to the training, a session is required of approximately ten minutes (ideally slotted into a school assembly) so students hear what the training will and won’t do. Half an hour with the school staff (as many as possible – ideally a staff meeting) is also required.

Will it put a strain on our welfare resources?

Schools which have received the training have reported additional demand on welfare resources, however, not at a level which has caused difficulties.

Can we send a group of student leaders to do the course or does it need to be the entire year level?

The course is designed around a specific set of guidelines. The guidelines represent the minimum that experts in the field, and young people with experience of mental illness, would want every young person to know in order to help a friend. Blanketing the year level is the best way to manage that. Otherwise, students who receive the training may begin to seek out opportunities to use it, when the model is that the skill should be used by friends who have noticed changes.

How much does it cost?

The basic costs involved are a manual and certificate for each student in the targeted year level, a manual and certificate for each staff member attending the Youth MHFA course, and the instructor’s time. Individual instructors set their own prices, and some may be subsidised by a grant or a community organisation. You will need to discuss with a teen MHFA instructor in your area how much the program would cost for a school of your size.



Running tMHFA in community settings


teen MHFA is a new course being offered by instructors trained by Mental Health First Aid Australia.
Young people frequently turn to their friends at times of psychological distress. While young people can have reasonable levels of mental health literacy, recognising mental illness and having some understanding of effective treatments, what they tend to lack is the skill to assist.
teen MHFA is a program which teaches young people the minimum skill set to:
1. Recognise the signs of a mental health problem developing
2. Recognise the signs of a mental health crisis, particularly suicide
3. Get a responsible and trusted adult to take over as necessary.

Read the information above about running the course in schools to understand the content and structure of the course.

If you want more information about teen Mental Health First Aid, this Frequently Asked Questions list should be able to help.

What settings can the course be run in?

Any setting is suitable. Many young people who feel disconnected from school will benefit more from receiving the training elsewhere. However, the same basic rules apply.

  • The entire group needs to be offered the training (this doesn't include those individuals who choose to opt out). Community groups who wish to conduct the training can't advertise it to interested young people – they need to instead inform the whole group that the course will be happening.
  • Adults in the environment, a minimum of 10% of those interacting with young people on a regular basis, must complete Youth Mental Health First Aid training before the teen program is conducted. This needs to be a few people, though. If there are only five adults in the organisation, it would not be acceptable for only one to have attended the training.
  • The course needs to be conducted over three sessions on separate, preferably non-consecutive days. Each session is 75 minutes.
  • Each participant needs a manual and a certificate.

What support would we need to run the training?

Adults in your organisation need to remain for the sessions. We recommend seeking the support of a local mental health professional to be available for debriefing in case of participant distress, but this happens only rarely. Ensuring there is somewhere private for a distressed young person to make a call to Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) is a good alternative.

The young people in this setting range up to 20+ years old. Can we still run this course?

The course was developed for young people under 18. Those over 18 may find the content much too young.