Started MHFA training
Staff trained so far
Anglia Ruskin University is a public university in East Anglia which is renowned for its world-leading research facilities. The university has over 39,400 students across three campuses in Cambridge, Chelmsford and Peterborough, with 26,000 at the largest campus in Cambridge.
Alison Hunte, the university’s Student Counsellor and Placement Co-ordinator, is a qualified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor and is responsible for running training courses across all three campuses. The two day training course is offered to all staff through the HR training program, and student reps have also had access to the training on a course funded by the Student Union.
“I feel so lucky to be in an organisation that was able to train me as an MHFA instructor. I really enjoy running the courses, and they make a really big difference to the participants.”
Anglia Ruskin is a unique university in the provision it has for mental health and wellbeing support for all students and staff, offering a wide range of workshops, programs and support services, including counselling and online CBT. The decision to introduce MHFA training was part of this wellbeing program. “We introduced the course to raise awareness,” Alison says. “It was about educating, reducing stigma, and to give accurate information and guidance to staff.”
The course was initially proposed by a member of staff who had completed the training in another organisation and reported positive outcomes. This led to an agreement that the university would benefit from implementing the same training. To make it sustainable, the decision was taken to train staff members to become in-house MHFA instructors. Since then Alison says uptake of the courses has been popular, with most courses offered completely full with between 12–14 participants.
One of the key benefits being reported around MHFA training is that staff now feel able to offer initial support to students in situations where signposts of mental ill health are more likely to arise. “We wanted to support the staff in supporting students. Although we offer a counselling service, a lot of students in distress don’t come to us. Other staff in all kinds of roles in the rest of the university find themselves dealing with students who are experiencing mental health issues and this training enables them to support and guide a student to find the help they need.
100% of staff trained would recommend the course to a colleague.
Feedback for the MHFA training has been overwhelmingly positive, with 100% of trained staff reporting they would recommend the course to a colleague. Staff reported feeling more confident in supporting students with their mental wellbeing, rather than feeling the need to turn to counselling services for initial support.
“Almost universally people say that they got loads out of the course, and that it’s improved their knowledge. They feel more confident in talking to people and it's helped to destigmatise mental health. I think it also increases peoples’ capacity to be kind to each other, which is really important.”
“Almost universally people say that they got loads out of the course, and that it’s improved their knowledge. They feel more confident in talking to people and it's helped to destigmatise mental health."
The training has also raised the profile of the existing counselling service and created an important link to support that is available, that some staff were previously unaware of. “We have a higher profile so that people feel more able to raise concerns with us directly. We get staff talking to us more about their concerns, and we can intervene more quickly with some students.”
Alison herself is a big supporter of the course, and says it has had a significant impact on her life. “I feel so lucky that I was in an organisation that was able to train me as an MHFA instructor. I really enjoy running the courses, and they make a really big difference to the participants.”
The university now has two additional MHFA instructors in house, working alongside Alison to continue delivering training. They have recently expanded their offering to include the specialised Higher Education MHFA One Day course, and so far reception has been very positive.
The university already has a wide range of support available to students and staff, but Alison believes there’s room for more. The next step is to train more staff as instructors so courses can be run more frequently. “I currently run the course twice a year on different campuses, but that is about as many as I can fit in around my main role, so we’d like to train more staff to run it.”
Until now the course has been funded by the HR department and was only available to staff, but after a successful pilot that saw a course for student reps funded by the Student Union, Alison is keen to roll out the training for students as well as staff. There’s also an initiative underway to create a list of all MHFA participants so that students can easily locate trained staff members within their faculty or building and turn to them for support.