Mental Health First Aid in Practice

Good mental health – and the concept of what it means to be mentally healthy – has slowly progressed over time from an ideal to a real-world practicality.  Today, people in all areas, across communities, workplaces, and schools, are talking openly and practically about how and why we should look after both our physical and mental well-being. 

When thinking about mental health – it’s important to acknowledge the role we play in each other’s lives. As we work to increase awareness of mental health first aid and how to recognise and respond to the signs and symptoms of mental illness, we’re also taking on a bigger responsibility to act when we see people around us struggling. 

So, what does mental health first aid look like in practice? 

MHFA Courses

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia, offers a range of core and speciality courses, to teach people the skills and confidence needed to take that next step, to act and offer support to people experiencing a mental health problem.  The core courses on offer are: 

    • Standard: for adults supporting other adults 
    • Youth: for adults supporting teens 
    • Older Person: for adults supporting older people 
    • Teen: a peer-to-peer support program for adolescents 
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander courses (Standard and Youth) 

Over the last 12 months we’ve worked to collect and curate a range of case studies that showcase how the skills and knowledge learned in MHFA and AMHFA courses are applied in workplaces, schools and universities, and community settings across the country. 

October sees us celebrate 21 years since the delivery of the very first MHFA course and as we stop to reflect on where we’ve been, where we find ourselves, and the future of MHFA we wanted to share highlights from some of those case studies, and showcase the impact our courses can have on workplaces and communities more broadly.  

Standard Mental Health First Aid

Country Fire Authority (CFA) 

Cara McIntyre, Wellbeing Consultant at Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) has seen first-hand the impact that emergency services work can have on individuals. 

The CFA plays a significant role in keeping people safe from fires and other emergencies, relying on the dedication of staff, and committed volunteers who often put themselves physically and mentally on the front line.  

Since implementing Mental Health First Aid training as part of their comprehensive mental health literacy program, Cara says that feedback from both Instructors and course participants has been “overwhelmingly positive.” 

“Members can apply MHFA knowledge in all parts of their lives, not just in CFA roles. With huge diversity amongst our membership, this is another reason the standard and blended community training versions are the best fit for us,”

Cara McIntyre, Wellbeing Consultant at Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA)

The CFA has continued to provide training amidst and beyond extreme bushfire seasons and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, utilising a new blended online training model that allows participants to complete their training entirely online. 

Fernwood Fitness 

Stepping into women’s mental health and fitness, MHFA standard training has also been used to help bolster Fernwood Fitness’ wellness program. 

Fernwood’s head office made a commitment to pursuing a mental health training program that would work at all levels of the organisation. 

Emma Robertson, Wellness, Training and Development Manager, was supported by Fernwood to receive training to become a qualified MHFA Instructor.

Able to teach fellow employees mental health first aid, Emma said this has a strong ‘ripple effect’, with benefits for members and the organisation, as well as for staff both in the workplace and at home.  

“We’ve had so much feedback over the last couple of years as to how the course has helped individuals themselves with their own lived experience, help[ing] their friends and family members,” Emma said. 

“But of course, I’ve had a lot of feedback from staff, managers [and] owners of the clubs who’ve used the training to assess their own staff members with their mental health.”  

Last year in 2020, Fernwood was recognised as an MHFA Gold Skilled Workplace. They provide an inspiring example of what can be achieved in just two years of implementing MHFA, but with a long-sighted commitment to wellbeing into the future. 

 

“We’ve had so much feedback over the last couple of years as to how the course has helped individuals themselves with their own lived experience, help[ing] their friends and family members,”

Emma Robertson, Wellness, Training and Development Manager

Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid

St Augustine’s College

There are certain high priority populations for prevention and early interventions – among them adolescents in their teen years.

In Cairns Queensland, Catholic Secondary School St Augustine’s College has promoted Youth MHFA training as a positive addition to the pastoral staff training schedule. 

The College has implemented several strategies that have contributed to the success of the school’s MHFA program, including onsite training, set training days each year, and placing posters in every dorm and teacher’s area outlining procedures to be followed when supporting someone in the school community with a mental health problem or crisis.

Since implementing Youth MHFA, the College has seen an increase in staff confidence when supporting peers and students with mental health problems, and conversations with distressed students have been more insightful and informed. 

“In my years of teaching this is probably the best and most useful Professional Development I have done,” one staff member said. 

Adolescents are at a critical point in physical, mental and social development, and may be exposed to additional pressures that can result in problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. 

Live4Life

Outside of the school setting, we’ve known Youth and Teen MHFA training to be incredibly useful to Australia’s rural and remote communities, as they face additional challenges like geographic and social isolation. 

Live4Life is the only mental health education and youth suicide prevention model designed specifically for rural and regional communities, and its success has led to high interest from a diverse range of communities across Australia. 

Partnering with rural communities – with a particular focus on empowering and supporting young people through Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid Australia training – Live4Life puts young people at the centre of its model. 

“We take a scaffolded approach to youth mental health. This means recognising the power in young people themselves and the critical role they can play in supporting their friends to reach out for help. Our approach also involves ensuring that the adults in their lives have the right knowledge and skills to play a supportive role, when it’s most needed,” explains Annie Rowland, Live4Life Community Engagement Coordinator, and qualified Master Youth and Teen MHFA Instructor. 

 

We have a vision that all rural communities across Australia will be empowered to improve and invest in young people’s mental health and reduce youth suicide,

Annie Rowland, Live4Life Community Engagement Coordinator, and qualified Master Youth and Teen MHFA Instructor 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander (AMHFA)

While mental ill health impacts people from all walks of life, we know there is a significant gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This gap is widened when there is not access to culturally safe care.

Our AMHFA program recognises the need for Culturally responsive mental health first aid training to empower individuals and communities. 

We have more than 200 dedicated Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Instructors who live and work in community, and they are empowered by the curriculum to draw upon their own unique and instrumental local cultural knowledge, enriching the content and enabling a culturally informed and safe delivery.  

“[The] Instructors were known in our community, therefore the trust, respect and rapport were already established. We felt comfortable to share with the group,” one course participant said. 

Our AMHFA program addresses “a very real issue” for Indigenous communities, providing historical, cultural and social context behind some of the mental health challenges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be facing. 

“People come to workshops thinking one thing – then walking away thinking something different,” said AMHFA Instructor AJ Williams. 

“Even after delivering over 560 MHFA courses across this country, I have seen how this course continues to heal people, heal families and heal country.” 

Practice makes perfect

Mental illness does not discriminate and those affected come from diverse backgrounds, live in every community, attend local schools, are employed in every workplace and are at different ages and stages of life. 

Yet, despite the prevalence of mental illness many people still find it difficult to know what to say, or how to support someone who may be experiencing a mental health problem. 

That is where Mental Health First Aid Australia can help. The network of people trained to recognise, respond, and support a family member, friend, co-worker or others in the community is growing, and the difference those skills can make in communities is incredibly profound.

Today Mental Health First Aid has trained more than 4 million people world-wide, in over 26 countries by more than 50,000 Instructors. Australia has more than 2,400 accredited MHFA Instructors, and more than 900,000 Aussies are equipped with mental health first aid skills.  

We know that life-saving conversations can and do happen anywhere, and at any time and we are extremely proud of the increasing number of workplaces, communities and schools raising the bar; letting their community members know that there is in fact someone they can talk to.  

View our Case studies

To learn more about the innovative ideas and ways that workplaces and communities are using Mental Health First Aid view our case studies page. 

Copyright © MHFA Australia 2022