“Mental Health First Aid is vital to what we do in that it gives us the skills to spot if a student is struggling and offer them the appropriate support.”


Started MHFA training
February 2015

Staff trained so far
500


From Aberdeen to Southampton, 25,000 students choose Liberty Living as their term time home. As a leading purpose built student accommodation provider, Liberty Living’s joined up approach to student and staff wellbeing is essential for achieving their award winning status. At 50 universities across the UK, each residence contains anywhere from 150 to 1,000 beds and to make sure they can give these students the best experience possible, the company invests seriously in training for their 450 staff.
 

Why we started training

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is one of several training programmes that Liberty Living provides for its staff as an essential part of their development: first aid, customer service, cultural awareness, health and safety, and conflict management among others. Wendy Garrett, Liberty Living’s Learning and Development Advisor says: “As an accommodation provider, we have a duty of care to our students. We want our students to enjoy their time at university and a crucial part of this is their accommodation, and as such our staff need to be able to provide them with the care they deserve.” 

As part of providing this holistic support, it is crucial for staff to be able to recognise when students are struggling – and to know what to do in an emergency. Wendy says, “MHFA is vital to what we do in that it gives us the skills to spot if a student needs support. Our previous Training Officer, Zandria Barclay, attended a presentation by MHFA England and was very impressed with the case studies she was shown. The tailored training offer showed that MHFA England really understood our industry. She reported back that the tools provided by these courses were ideal for our staff and our company.”

“As well as being an important skill for their career, MHFA training helps our staff to look after their own mental wellbeing and support each other.” Wendy Garrett, Learning and Development Advisor

But alongside providing better support for students, rolling out MHFA training was equally driven by the motivation to support staff wellbeing. Wendy explains, “As a business we’re very people focused. MHFA is not only an important set of skills for their career, it helps staff to look after their own mental wellbeing and support each other too.” 
 

Method

The training model chosen by Liberty Living includes a blend of the different MHFA courses on offer. ‘Front line’ staff such as housekeepers and maintenance workers generally take Half Day awareness courses, while all office based staff and management take MHFA One Day courses to become Mental Health Champions. This intensive course gives them an understanding of the issues relating to mental health in the higher education environment, the skills to spot early signs of mental health issues and the confidence to signpost someone towards the appropriate support. 

 

Results

100% of staff trained rated the course as 'very good' or 'extremely good'

“People are very keen to do the training. Whilst technically mandatory for our front line staff, we’ve never had to enforce it,” says Wendy. And when they complete the course: “The feedback has been 100% positive. We run surveys so that staff can feed back on the training they receive as part of their development, and people have always rated the MHFA courses as ‘very good’ or ‘extremely good’.” 

As a qualified Mental Health First Aider herself, Wendy has her own experience of MHFA training, having taken both the one day and two day courses. She says, “The content is delivered in such a way that you can process it easily. It can touch upon some heavy subjects so the approachable way they deliver it is so important. From both of the courses I attended, I came away feeling much more knowledgeable and confident around dealing with mental health.” 

Going beyond being equipped to intervene when a student is struggling or help in an emergency, Liberty Living also works proactively to build rapport while creating a positive, open culture around mental health. “We want to make sure our students know that we are there to support them,” says Wendy. “We use little incentives to get the students to drop by the office and chat, such as free fruit on Fridays, and we then take that opportunity to talk to them and see how they are doing.” 

Posters promoting initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week are put up in the common areas, and regular events encourage students to get together and to interact with accommodation staff. By circulating information about mental health and supporting awareness campaigns, Wendy and her colleagues hope to empower students to actively seek support should they need it. This preventative approach can ultimately mean that a person has the information they need to seek support before a mental health issue gets worse.  

Feedback suggests that Liberty Living staff’s solid foundation of mental health skills and awareness has been a valuable support to students experiencing mental ill health. Wendy explains, “We have received letters from students and parents thanking us for our support.” One parent said: “I really appreciate how quickly you responded and the care and understanding you have shown our daughter throughout her illness and recovery. It made the world of difference and now she is in a better position to focus on her studies.” 


What the future holds

Liberty Living plans to continue delivering MHFA courses to all new staff as they come on board as part of their employee training. Wendy has now completed the MHFA England Instructor Training programme so that she can begin delivering the courses internally from November 2018. Her target is to have a minimum of one Mental Health First Aider in every student residence.  

Liberty Living’s student experience team have more mental health awareness events and activities in the pipeline for engaging students and continuing to foster that open, stigma-free culture. The accommodation provider is a great example of a whole organisation approach to mental health – as Wendy puts it, “Mental health is absolutely central to what we do.”