Reducing mental health stigma, responding to mental health crisis

When many of us think of first aid, we picture bandages, CPR, or helping someone who is choking. First aid can save a person from further harm, and can be a life-saving intervention – and someone who needs first aid might not be physically injured, this is where psychological first aid comes in. 

Red cross volunteer hugs a wildfire evacueePsychological first aid provides emotional and practical support to individuals, families, or communities who are having difficulty coping. It’s about creating a connection in a non-judgemental way that helps bring calm and comfort.

Mental health crises can carry a lot of stigma, but when we talk openly about it –  and treat it like the health issue it is –  we can reduce that stigma.  Psychological first aid can help to reduce negative health outcomes by engaging everyday people and their communities to build self-care strategies and to get people talking about mental health.

You can learn more about psychological first aid by downloading this free guide.

Every year, Canadians experience emergencies and disasters. Much like first aid for physical injuries, there are obvious ways that they will need help – like help with food and lodging, clean clothes, and financial support as they and their community recover. But mental health plays a big role in recovery.

After traumatic events, like the wildfires that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in 2016, many people will struggle to cope emotionally. This is entirely normal – expected, even – but can often happen quietly due to stigma around mental health.

Sithara Fernando was one of the people impacted by the fires in 2016, the fire left her feeling depressed and brought forward some other mental health concerns. She shared her story with us a year after the fires.

The Canadian Red Cross includes psychological first aid as part of how we respond to disasters and emergencies. This can include sharing information, like this pamphlet on how parents and caregivers can help children after disasters, to working with community partners to help people find services they will need.

Additional help:

If you are in crisis, please call 911 immediately, or locate a crisis centre in your region.

  • If you need help, and aren’t sure how to find it, consult with your healthcare provider, or another trusted professional.
  • For more information, you can also call 211 or go to to access community, social,  non-clinical health and related government services.  

Related stories:

What to do if someone is experiencing a panic attack
Why you need to know psychological first aid
Caring for yourself and loved ones after tragic events

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