Caroline Hounsell is Director of Partnerships, Product Development and Training and youth lead at MHFA England

Recently, Natasha Devon blogged for Times Educational Supplement on the utility of mindfulness in supporting under-pressure school staff to look after their mental health. I fully agree that techniques like mindfulness are a fantastic way to promote personal resilience and Natasha’s blog set me thinking about the similar impact Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training has in supporting school staff in this way.

MHFA is about teaching people to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health, to have the skills and confidence to start conversations on mental health, listen non-judgementally and guide people to further support. However, MHFA is also about encouraging school staff to support their own mental health, and that of their peers, and about encouraging a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health where all parts of the school community are encouraged to work together, and at every level, in their commitment to wellbeing.

According to a survey of 5,000 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) four out of five teachers believe their job has had an adverse impact on their wellbeing. It’s my belief that both aspects of MHFA training, learning to support yourself and to supporting others, can have a positive impact on school staff’s mental health and wellbeing, and go some way to address this troubling statistic.

Firstly, in equipping staff with the knowledge, skills and confidence to assist young people experiencing mental health issues on a first aid basis Youth MHFA training can reduce pressures associated with managing these situations without adequate training. Secondly, in teaching staff to support their own mental health and that of their colleagues’ around them, it can help encourage better mental wellbeing among other school staff. And thirdly, by creating Youth MHFA Champions who are encouraged to drive improved ‘whole school’ approaches to wellbeing, this training can play an important part in supporting a culture shift towards creating mentally healthy learning environments where young people and staff’s mental health is better supported on an ongoing basis.

My hope is that Youth MHFA training can be a positive first step on the ladder for many schools that may not have well developed approaches to promoting wellbeing and a useful addition to those that do. MHFA forms an important part of an effective ‘whole school’ approach along with thorough mental health and safeguarding policies, health and wellbeing action groups and leaders who encourage the challenging of stigma. Mental health and wellbeing approaches need to be woven authentically into the fabric of all organisations, including schools, and not regarded as a tick-box bolt on. Achieving the kind of cultural shift that the mental health community are working towards will require patience, but step by step, I believe it is ‘wholly’ achievable.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England has been working with schools since 2010 and is currently rolling out the government funded Youth MHFA in Schools programme, which aims to upskill over 3,000 school staff in state secondary schools in England over the next three years. To find out more about the programme click here.