New publication on the development of accessible evidence-based guidelines on first aid for mental health problems


Since family and friends are well positioned to recognize early signs of mental health problems, the Belgian Red Cross has developed a set of evidence-based guidelines for laypeople on how to administer help to people experiencing mental health problems. More specifically, these guidelines contain recommendations on how to recognize early signs of mental health problems, provide initial support, and refer to professional help if needed.

A full account of the development of these guidelines has now been published in the International Journal of First Aid Education. At CEBaP, we conducted systematic literature searches for 12 different mental health topics, with a focus on communicative support interventions that are feasible for laypeople to perform. In total, 90 individual studies were included, which were summarized in 58 evidence conclusions on communicative interventions, risk factors or protective factors, and their relationship to mental health outcomes. Since the certainty of evidence was very low for almost 85% of the evidence conclusions, expert and stakeholder input was especially important in formulating and validating the recommendations. Expert input was provided by a multidisciplinary expert panel, involving content experts as well as mental health peer workers in training who had lived experience.

Input from the expert panel was combined with the scientific evidence obtained from the literature to develop 33 recommendations. These were bundled together in a guidance manual called 'Listen! First aid for mental health problems' (available in the webshop of the Belgian Red Cross). In addition to the manual, guidelines were made available via a free mobile application called 'Houvast'. Furthermore, free 12-hour training sessions and 1,5-hour digital teasers are organized that have already reached more than 800 trainees. All material and trainings were developed in Dutch.