Why is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) important?

Importance of mental health

Poppy Jaman, CEO,  Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, blogs on the impact MHFA training has and the reasons behind the MHFA movement.

MHFA increases mental health literacy and offers the lay person the opportunity to develop a set of skills designed to help prevent mental health crisis from happening or to respond at the earliest possible to someone who is experiencing mental ill health. MHFA absolutely doesn’t teach, or indeed purport to teach, people to be therapists or psychiatrists because that would be disrespectful to those who have spent years training as experts in their field.

Since its inception, there have been a large number of research studies conducted, both internationally and regionally, which evidence the positive impact that MHFA has on people’s attitudes towards mental health, their awareness of mental health issues and their confidence to support themselves or others. We place huge value on this research because it upholds MHFA as one of the most researched mental health awareness courses in the world. We are also continually looking at new ways to evaluate the impact of our training and we will continue to work with the academic community to develop a suitable research paradigm.

However from my perspective, the most powerful arguments put forward for MHFA training are by those who have been trained and put their skills to good use. Only last week I was speaking to a lady called Emma, a trained Mental Health First Aider, who was able to use her skills to prevent someone from completing suicide in a crisis situation. Emma’s story is just one of the many I have had the honour of hearing and I am confident there are thousands more untold, because the fact is, it is not always someone else’s story to tell.

MHFA training, along with other equally valuable mental health training courses, help people in our communities to understand that help is possible and getting ill is preventable. The courses also help to remove the shame that is so often associated with the stigma of being mentally unwell. Through the skills taught on the course, participants feel more confident in recognising when someone might be experiencing mental health issues and offering a first line of support – either through non-judgemental listening or by guiding them to appropriate services. By offering this support at an earlier stage than might have ordinarily happened, MHFA is encouraging early intervention and recovery. As importantly, MHFA also educates people on what keeps us mentally well and therefore prevents some people getting ill in the first place.

Our training courses are also regularly reviewed, piloted and rewritten to reflect current thinking, NICE guidelines and expert opinion, with our Instructor Training programme accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health. MHFA is designed for everyone because it is accessible and takes on board different learning styles to reflect our diverse population. Our courses are run by our 1300 instructors from a range of backgrounds and experiences, with over 60 per cent reporting close proximity to mental ill health. Surely there is nothing more powerful than those who have been affected by mental ill health to be teaching others on how to support their loved ones, friends and families, colleagues and community members?

As an independent social enterprise we have absolutely no wish to see MHFA replace – or indeed be positioned as replacing – vital mental health services. Our role is to raise mental health awareness by offering access to high quality, well-researched, positively evaluated mental health training to as many people as possible. We see ourselves as one part of, but certainly not the whole solution to creating a healthier society, where mental health has parity of esteem with physical health. We’ve achieved a lot in ten years but we also believe we have a long way to go before the one in four of us with a mental health issue get the support we need to live a healthier, happier and fulfilling life.