Your Infosec Primer To Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health means something different to everyone. This means that it’s a diverse area, with no rights or wrongs, and also means that when it comes to infosec we can adopt Mental Health First Aid principles from other industries. While this article will not make you a mental health first aider it will provide you with a few more tools to help you approach mental health experiences in the future.

Because Mental Health means something different to everyone, when asked the question of “what is mental health?” most people will have a different answer.

Take five minutes now to write down negative words commonly used to refer to Mental Health (e.g. Crazy). Then take another five minutes to write down both neutral and positive words for mental health (e.g. Well-being).

What you may find from this exercise is that it’s significantly easier to write down negative words for mental health than it is to write positive ones. Even in a world where one in four people are affected by mental health disorders we have more negative words for mental health in our society than positive ones. One of the key parts of mental health first aid, and in turn this article, is raising awareness and de-stigmatising mental health. When referring to mental health use whichever of these positive words you are most comfortable with, my personal favourite is Mental Health Experience.

Mental Health isn’t binary, it isn’t a yes or no answer, instead there is something called the Mental Health Continuum — where everyone will fall somewhere on.

The Mental Health Continuum

The dots on the above are simply examples of where people may sit on the two axis of minimum and maximum well-being and on if someone has been diagnosed with a mental health experience or not. Where we all individually sit on the continuum fluctuates daily and can be a result of both internal and external factors. The goal of mental health first aid is to help others to reach their maximum well-being — irrespective of if people are diagnosed with mental health disorders or not.

Mental Health is a broad area with many different types of mental health experiences, from PTSD to Schizophrenia each and every one of these mental health experience can be managed and supported in their own way. One of the most common forms of mental health experience is depression where In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. The below video is a great representation of how depression can affect people.

While not a mental health experience in its own right stress is one of the main types of experience that leads to more serious mental health conditions, like depression. Thankfully there are tools and techniques available that can help some people to manage their stress. Stress containers are one such example.

A Stress Container

A stress container is broken down into three main areas: the stresses in someones life (which sit inside the triangle), the types of experiences that stress can lead to if not managed (which sit to the right of the triangle), and finally both helpful and unhelpful ‘taps’ that can be used to relieve stress (that sit on the left of the triangle). An example of a helpful tap may be: running, walking the dog, or listening to music while negative taps may be: drinking, smoking, or substance abuse.

Spend 10 or more minutes now building your own stress container. Focusing first on what factors you have in your life that lead to stress, what they might develop into if not managed, and finally with how you could and do manage these stresses.

If you have ever been a physical first aider or know anyone else who has you may know that there are three main principles that come with it: To preserve life, to protect the casualty from further harm, and to promote recovery. No prizes for guessing the principles for mental health first aid. That’s right, they’re the same — with a few more added on for good measure.

  • To preserve life where a person may be a danger to themselves or others.
  • To provide help to prevent the mental health problem developing further into a more serious state.
  • To promote the recovery of good mental health.
  • To provide comfort to a person experiencing a mental health problem.
  • To raise awareness of mental health issues in the community.
  • To reduce stigma and discrimination.

These three additions are why, as a mental health first aider, I love writing articles such as these and running workshops at conferences to help support awareness in the industry.

Again metal health first aid shares many similarities to physical first aid. When approaching an individual in physical first aid there is an acronym that should be followed: Danger, Response, Catastrophic Bleeding, Airways, Breathing, and Circulation. With mental health first aid there is also an acronym to follow, this is:

  • Approach the person, assess and assist with crisis.
  • Listen and communicate non judgmentally.
  • Give support and information.
  • Encourage the person to get appropriate help and any additional supports.

Listening and communicating non judgmentally is one of the most important parts of mental health first aid as you provide the person going through the mental health experience an opportunity to have someone to talk to. The most important thing here is to listen non judgmentally. The below quote summarises this perfectly.

Understanding that whatever someone is experiencing is real to them.

The latter part of this approach, encouraging, is also an intrinsic part of mental health first aid. This involves signposting people onto further support. One of the most important signposting options is someone’s GP as they can provide details for their local NHS services. In addition to this If you are ever in doubt about someone’s ability to keep themselves or others safe then you can call 999 for support, and once the individual is at the hospital they will be seen by the crisis team. I’ve provided a few additional signposting options below:

Local General Practice

If available to you, your local GP should always be your first port and call, as they will be able to fully help and signpost you to further support.

Mind Infoline

Call: 0300 123 3393 | Text: 86463 | 9am — 6pm Mon — Fri
Provides information on types of mental health issues, where to get help, medication and alternative treatments and advocacy.

Samaritans | Call 116 123 | | 24/7
Samaritans is aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.


Call: 0300 5000 927 | 9:30am — 4pm
Rethink Advice and Information Service provides practical help and information on issues such as the Mental Health Act, community care, benefits, debt, criminal justice and career’s rights.


NAPAC, Rape Crisis, Survivors UK, Womens Aid, Drinkline, Gamblers Anonymous UK, Marijuana Anonymous UK, Anxiety UK, No Panic,

I love running mental health first aid workshops in the Infosec community and so if you know of any conferences or events in the future that are looking for a speaker then feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.

A supplementary workbook is available for this article:

I’m a Software Engineer and Security Researcher, with a history of security operations. I’m also qualified as both a Mental and Physical Health First Aider.

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