Sarah McIntosh, our Director of Delivery reflects on what the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England community has achieved during the pandemic
Once in a while life throws us a curveball and I don’t think I am alone in saying that 2020 threw us a big one! Thankfully, our basic human instinct is survival and in times of trouble we make decisions designed to protect ourselves and those around us. Often however, it is only after a period of time that we can sit back, reflect and celebrate our achievements in weathering the storm.

More than a year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic I would like to pause and reflect on what the MHFA England community has achieved. Most importantly I want to celebrate the collective impact we’ve had on people’s mental health and wellbeing during a really challenging time.

On the 23 March 2020, when the country went into its first lock down, there was the overwhelming fear of the unknown and the shock of our worlds being turned upside down. We felt it on a personal level, we felt it as employers and we felt it as businesses. As a face to face training provider, it was immediately clear that we would need to act fast. We all agreed that to continue with our vision to improve the mental health of the nation, we would need to adapt our delivery model and offer an online solution.

By the start of April we had a plan in place to adapt our core training course, Mental Health First Aid, and make it available for our Instructor Members to deliver online. By 29 May we began training people to be Mental Health First Aiders using our brand-new Online Learning Hub. In those eight weeks, our staff, National Trainers, Associates and Instructor Members joined together and made what felt like the impossible, possible.

I will always be in awe of people’s willingness to collaborate in the face of adversity, and I will be forever thankful to our community for pulling together with a common goal of supporting the mental health of the nation.

This pivot from face to face to online training was not simple but it was essential. In order for us to continue on our mission of training one in ten of the adult population, we had to be able to reach people remotely and deliver the same learning outcomes as those gained on a face to face course. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have maintained our already high evaluation scores over the past 14 months, with learners reporting a five point increase in their confidence, knowledge and skills having attended one of our online courses.

And the numbers speak for themselves. Since 31 March 2020 we have trained 132,000 people in MHFA England knowledge and skills – 77,000 of those are certified as Mental Health First Aiders. This time last year, June 2020, we had reached 1:70 of the adult population with our training. Exactly a year later we have moved that number to 1:56 which means that in total we have trained 660,000 of the adult population in England. This is an incredible achievement. I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone in the MHFA England community who has contributed to this milestone moment.

I am also very proud of the impact we’ve been able to make, not just in numbers trained but also those who we have been able to reach and support over the last year. As a social enterprise, our ‘profit with pride’ model means we exist to benefit society not shareholders. Prior to the pandemic we focused our social enterprise ‘give back’ on the sports and recreation sector, with the aim of supporting young people’s mental health in communities where our training would have been unaffordable. During the pandemic we have shifted our focus to supporting the mental health of NHS workers, by offering subsidised training and mobilising the volunteering time of our Instructor Member and Mental Health First Aider community.

Over the last year or so we have delivered subsided mental health knowledge and skills training to support staff across a number of NHS Trusts and delivered a bespoke training session to over 350 people as part of the NHS Homeless Response programme. We have also mobilised hundreds of volunteer Mental Health First Aiders to the Frontline mental health support service for NHS workers. All these initiatives have been designed to provide support to NHS staff or NHS resources as we believe that this sector has experienced some of the deepest trauma because of the pandemic.

In July last year we committed to becoming an anti-racist organisation and made a number of commitments in our Statement of Intent. One of these commitments was to provide subsidised training to People of Colour and Black-led organisations. In July we will be reporting on our progress in this area so far.

It’s true to say that the past 14 months has not been an easy ride but it has certainly demonstrated what can be achieved when needs must. Once again, I want to say thank you to our amazing MHFA England community for stepping up and in during a time when mental health support is needed more than ever. Each and every one of you is an inspiration and you move us further to achieving our vision of improving the mental health of the nation.
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