Somewhere along the line you probably learned the basics of first aid. If someone scrapes their knee you wash it and stick on a band aid. If the cut is deeper, you apply pressure and get some help. Maybe you even got a little more advanced, mastering CPR and the recovery position.

But would you know what to do if someone nearby had a panic attack?

It's a rarely asked question, writer Meagan Morris pointed out in the Atlantic recently, but one we should probably consider more often. While most adults take it for granted that it's their responsibility to know the most fundamental medical information, huge numbers of us remain totally unprepared should somewhere nearby suffer an acute episode of mental illness.

"It's an alarming gap in our collective knowledge, given that roughly 18 percent of U.S. adults have some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health," Morris notes. There are statistics that make the issue of mental health first aid even more pressing for bosses -- research shows that a full third of us would hide a mental health problem at work. That means that someone on your team very well could be suffering in silence.

So what do I need to know?

Like many of us Morris was ignorant of even the most basics information about how to help someone in crisis. "I recently discovered Mental Health First Aid while paging through the free community events section of a local magazine," she confesses. Thankfully, her curiosity compelled her to sign up for the advertised class, which was offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

She recounts her experience in the interesting article and shares one fundamental takeaway from the experience that nearly everyone could benefit from learning. It's an acronym called ALGEE, and it outlines "the major steps of first-responder aid for a person experiencing a mental-health problem." Here it is:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

If you're looking for more information, maybe, like Morris, should dedicate a few hours to learning the basics of mental health first aid.

There's plenty of other advice out there as well. Here's a fellow business leader kicking off a discussion of how to be a better boss to those struggling with mental health issues, which might get you thinking about your level of understanding and preparedness. Or check out this article that offers a deep dive into the problem of depression and other mental illness in the entrepreneurship community. It might give you more impetus to be prepared to help.

After all, statistics suggest that sooner or later you're going to have to respond to someone in the midst of a crisis. Isn't it better to be informed when you do?