Mental Health First Aid
21 Years Strong

2021 is a significant milestone year for Mental Health First Aid. In 2000 the very first Mental Health First Aid community course was delivered and 21 years on we reflect on where Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) has come from, where we find ourselves, and the future we are headed towards. At a time of continued global uncertainty and rapid change, in which mental health problems remains a complex and important concern, we remain grounded by our purpose and committed to the vital nature of our daily work.

This milestone is also a time for us to take pause and offer thanks to all of the individuals who have been part of our journey so far, and importantly part of our collective effort to provide high quality evidence-based, accessible mental health first aid education to everyone. We acknowledge our dedicated Instructors and MHFAiders on the forefront of community care, our highly skilled staff, and the many collaborators and supporters who further our work.

Humble beginnings

Established in Canberra in 2000, Mental Health First Aid was the brainchild of Betty Kitchener AM and her husband Professor Tony Jorm. In the early days, the course was developed to fill a community gap for practical mental health training, that would parallel the first-aid training provided for physical health.

Starting small, with a standard course for adults, the program initially focused on sustainable testing and growth, while winning over support from collaborators, funders and participants. Within five years there were over 300 MHFA Instructors nationally, the program had won several funding grants and was being delivered in all states and territories across Australia. Over this same period of time, international interest in MHFA increased, and the program was taken up gradually by other countries around the world.

In Australia, our focus turned to adapting the program for more specific audience groups and tailoring length, delivery mode and resource materials. From humble beginnings, MHFA was fast becoming a recognised part of the mental health sector.

Fast Fact:

The concept for a first aid course to address mental health topics such as depression, first arose in 1997 during a workshop attended by Tony Jorm. He later mulled on the idea while walking his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named ‘King’ before sharing it with his wife and founding partner Betty Kitchener. ‘King’ became an early mascot for the organisation.  

An early vision based on best evidence

Mental Health First Aid has risen to become one of the most trusted, evidence based mental health education programs in Australia and internationally. Evaluation has always been a key focus of the program. The first, randomised control trial for MHFA was conducted in NSW in 2001. Since then the program has been extensively evaluated and reported on through various trials, peer review and expert consensus within Australia and overseas.

Our commitment to research, evaluation and understanding the impact of MHFA for participants and communities, is still at the forefront of our vision and delivery today.

Mobility and Growth

From local to national, from national to international – over the past two decades, MHFA has expanded its reach within communities of all different types, sizes and locations. We have now trained over 4 million people world-wide. These MHFAiders have become part of a global network to provide mental health first aid to people within their local communities.

For individual MHFAiders, this means improved knowledge, skills and confidence in recognising and responding to mental health problems in someone they know. For Australia it means a broader safety net of support for the millions of Australians experiencing mental illness, trauma, crises, and suicidality.

Fast Fact:

In 2021, MHFA has over 50,000 accredited Instructors world-wide operating across 26 countries. Our programs have been delivered in 20 languages. We reach people across all different types of communities – over 4 million in total!

Onward and Upward

Without forgetting our roots or our purpose, Mental Health First Aid is now committed to the future. This means understanding and responding to changing community needs and the mental health sector. Moving forward, we will continue to value access, diversity, inclusion, lived-experience, capacity building and best evidence. We will look to new ways expand our reach as we strive to ensure that every school, workplace, and local community group has access to peer-based support and improved mental health literacy.

Help us achieve our vision of a world where we all have the skills to support people experiencing mental health problems.
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Timeline of MHFA Over the Decades

1997 –
The idea is sparked!

A photograph of Betty Kitchener and Tony Jorm from the first MHFA course in Canberra

2000 – 2001

The First MHFA course is developed and piloted. The MHFA Program is officially established, and the first trials begin.

2002 – 2005

Instructors are now being trained across all Australian states and territories, and interest and adoption begins in other countries (starting with Scotland and Hong Kong).

2006 – 2007

Over 50,000 MHFA manuals disseminated since inception. Research translated into guidelines for how to help people with different mental health disorders. Programs adapted for linguistically and culturally diverse groups and young people

2008 – 2009

MHFA wins its first awards internationally and domestically and Founder, Betty Kitchener is awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

2010 – 2011

International recognition of ‘radical efficiency’ is received from researchers. Expansion into Australia’s regional, rural and remote communities continues. MHFA reaches 170,000 First Aiders in its first decade– 1% of the Australian adult population.

2012 – 2013

Organisational resources and operations expand significantly to meet demand. MHFA is added to SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).  .

2014

A peak time for evaluation in Australia and internationally. Swedish researchers publish a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 of the major MHFA trials with positive results. Former US President Barrack Obama recommends funding for MHFA youth programs.

2015

Over 1 million First Aiders have been trained world-wide with over 4,000 accredited instructors. The MHFA Skilled Workplace Program is introduced. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama becomes an ambassador of Mental Health First Aid.

2016 – 2019   

Approximately 500,000 people in Australia have attended an MHFA course, more than 20 awards have now been won internationally. Over 20 evaluation trial results have been published in favour of MHFA. Internationally acclaimed performing artist Lady Gaga endorses mental health first aid for youth

2020   

MHFA International and its international Licensed Providers respond to COVID-19 by adapting MHFA course delivery modes to included blended online learning options, ensuring increased community access to MHFA in a time of unprecedented global demand.

2021   

Over 4 million people have been trained world-wide, in over 26 countries by 50,000 Instructors. Australia has over 2,100 accredited MHFA Instructors, with over 900,000 people equipped with training.

2022 and beyond!   

Continued adaptation to community needs and strengths.  Ongoing local, Australian and international collaboration to extend the reach and impact of MHFA to support people experiencing mental health problems.

21 Years of Mental Health First Aid –
a Community Achievement

To everyone who has contributed to the development and dissemination of MHFA over the last 21 years, and who continues to give their time, skill, passion, or funding to MHFA to further our social mission, we say thank you!

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