Becoming a Mental Health First Aid Champion Community

The challenges of the past two years have been collectively overwhelming. Everyone has been touched in some way by the global pandemic and social turmoil within the world. At a local level, many communities have dealt with issues such as bushfires, floods, and economic downturn. Families and individuals have battled with concerns such as unemployment, financial distress and social isolation. With an increase in psychological distress, there is also an increased risk of developing, worsening and crisis level mental health problems.

Thankfully, some positives have come from our recent challenges, and it is more evident than ever before,  that during times of distress, community connection matters. We have seen many positive and inspiring examples of people helping people when times are tough. From a Mental Health First Aid® perspective, this is at the core of what we aim to achieve.

Enter, the Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities Program – a practical, grassroots approach to creating mentally healthier communities.

What is a Champion Community?

The Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities Program was developed to generate pathways for community connection, capacity building and resilience through Mental Health First Aid(MHFA™) training. Working within Local Government Areas (LGAs), this program engages councils, organisations and community groups, and equips them with the framework and tools to arm people with Mental Health First Aid knowledge and skills. This in turn helps those in the community who are experiencing mental health problems and crises.

The program has been co-designed in consultation with communities large and small, across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia. It builds dedicated local support networks, while harnessing international best evidence.

Dr Bronwyn Robson of Mental Health First Aid Australia explains why this is important,

“We recognise that communities have unique needs and innate strengths when it comes to mental health. There is power in building on local networks for support, to ensure that everyone can give and receive care. This helps broaden the safety net for those experiencing mental health problems. “

6 key elements of a champion community

  1. Local Leadership: Champion communities are committed to embedding MHFA training within their local communities. They demonstrate engaged leadership from local councils, organisations and community members. They often start from a visionary place of desiring a practical and sustainable change for community mental health literacy and well-being.
  2. Planning: Champion communities undertake planning to enact change and demonstrate how they are implementing MHFA training. They take a strategic approach to staged rollouts of training, to maximise both traction and impact.
  3. Funding: Champion communities are aware of the need for program sustainability. This efficient approach to building local knowledge, skills and capacity for community care has significant social returns on investment. Funding is secured at the local level to deliver training.
  4. Partnerships and collaboration: Champion communities will build collaborative local networks to ensure the viability of their plan. This often includes partnerships between councils, local organisations and community groups who represent the interests of local people.
  5. Reach and impact: Champion communities ensure that MHFA training delivery has population-based reach and outcome-oriented impact. They target training to the people who will most benefit from skills and knowledge, and who in turn can support others. This varies depending on the size and profile of each community.
  6. Review and reflect: Champion communities monitor success and measure impact. They can demonstrate reach and outcomes across their priority population groups, and they relish witnessing and sharing their positive outcomes.

Why become a Champion Community?

Mental Health First Aid is highly applicable to communities with different geographic and socio-demographic profiles. Communities are well placed to play an active role in mental health support because they are:

  1. Place based – localised supports are accessible and consider local challenges, needs and strengths. They provide training and support where and when it is needed.
  2. Connected – local communities utilise their own networks and understand their local populations and how they interact. They bring together organisations, services and people.
  3. Invested – local communities have a vested but positive interest in maintaining a healthy, happy and cohesive society. What better reason to invest in skills and people, than to create a better community?
  4. Efficient – embedding knowledge and skills at the grassroots level is a cost efficient, scalable and sustainable way of making change and seeing positive results.
  5. Effective – best evidence and practical feedback demonstrates that time and time again, equipping local people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to provide mental health first aid works.

Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities are formally recognised for their commitment to mental health and unwavering dedication to building local mental health literacy, skills and resilience.

    Community benefits include:

    • Improved mental health literacy – understanding and recognising mental health problems, holding mental health conversations, and the promotion of help seeking and giving.
    • Enhanced practical skills – more members of the community equipped with the skills to provide Mental Health First Aid to others in the community.
    • Contribution to positive culture – communities that are more connected and caring, and who value mental health resilience and safety.
    • Reduced stigma – less stigmatising attitudes and behaviours including reduced discrimination and marginalisation of those experiencing mental health problems/mental illness.
    • Greater inclusivity – a better sense of connection, belonging and acceptance of people from all walks of life, and with all different mental health challenges and strengths.
    • Long-term mental health safety – broadening the safety net for community-based support will contribute to healthier and safer communities, who can respond to high rates of mental illness, suicide and crises.

    Champion communities receive: 

    • A framework for best practice – the provision of an internationally renowned, best practice approach to the implementation of mental health training in a community setting.
    • Guidance and support – the Mental Health First Aid Australia Community Engagement Team are available to provide professional guidance and support to help community’s reach their goals.
    • Helpful resources and tools – access to a suite of resources and tools to assist in developing, implementing and embedding sustainable training into the community.
    • Formal recognition – acknowledgement of efforts and commitment, which will further promote the program and extend the reach and impact. This includes:
      • An Mental Health First Aid Champion Community Certificate
      • Approved use of an Mental Health First Aid Champion Community logo
      • Public acknowledgement on the Mental Health First Aid Australia Champion Communities webpage
      • Possible collaboration in feature articles, case studies and newsletters

    Mental Health First Aid Champion Community recognition is valid for 3 years from acceptance. Communities can continue to reapply in respect to their long-term commitment to mental health change.

    How to become a Champion Community?

    If your community is implementing MHFA training and has made a commitment to becoming a mentally healthier community, then you may be ready to apply for recognition as an Mental Health First Aid Champion Community.

    Gaining recognition is a stepped process requiring formal application and the supply of evidence. Local Councils or Community Members can apply any time through our website at mhfa.com.au/champion-communities. 

    Next steps…

    If you’d like to discuss becoming an MHFA Champion Community or simply want to know more, contact our Community Engagement Team on community@mhfa.com.au or call us on +61 3 9079 0200

    Learn more about the Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities Program

    Champion Community Case Studies

    Read about some of our existing Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities, the challenges they have overcome, and the positive impact being achieved in their communities.

    Glenelg Shire 

    Congratulations to Glenelg Shire on becoming the first community to be recognised as a Mental Health First Aid Champion Community. 

    Macedon Ranges Shire

    Champion Community– Recognising Macedon Ranges Shire’s commitment
    to youth mental health through collaboration.

    Learn More About our Training

    Understanding how to talk about mental health is an important skill. Many people feel uncomfortable and unprepared, and this can mean the conversation never starts at all. Mental Health First Aid courses teach you how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems or a crisis such as thoughts of suicide. You’ll gain the confidence to give the most effective support you can and learn how and when to recommend and access professional help.

    A conversation could change a life and learning the right skills can make the difference.

    Click below to learn more about our full range of courses.

    Read More Articles 

    Covering a wide range of current and topical issues and taking a closer look at some of the common types of mental health problems, our articles are the perfect way to enhance your knowledge and understanding.

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