Started MHFA training
Staff trained so far
Public Health Dorset is a partnership of Bournemouth Borough Council, Borough of Poole and Dorset County Council. The service supports a diverse population of 750,000 covering rural and urban areas, some of which are among the most deprived in South West England.
Rik Hemmingfield, the public health specialist who introduced the training, says it is important to look after the mental wellbeing of employees. The current financial pressures facing society and the public sector have been difficult for everyone.
“There was a wider objective,”
Rik says. “Our frontline staff were telling me that many members of the public are struggling with mental ill health. A high number of people calling local authority contact centres for varied reasons have increasing levels of stress and anxiety.
“They might ring about renting accommodation, but before long they are saying how worried and depressed they are.
“For public health, this was no surprise – we know mental health issues are not just widespread, they’re increasing. We could give general advice to our colleagues in front line services, but we needed to do more to support them.”
The team from Public Health Dorset decided to offer MHFA to all council staff, frontline and back office and evaluate outcomes. The evidence base for MHFA as a public health intervention for improving population mental health was strong. The objective was to improve employees’ understanding of mental health, help them look after their own emotional wellbeing and work more effectively with members of the public and customers experiencing mental ill health.
83% of those trained said it had helped them in the workplace
73% said the training had helped in their personal lives
90% of staff said they were now confident to respond to a mental health issue
Six months on, 83% of those trained said it had helped them in the workplace. 90% said they were now confident to respond to a mental health issue and 73% said the training had helped in their personal lives. Workers’ lives, at home and in the workplace, have benefited. So have those they serve, the public – and the team is in no doubt that lives have been saved.
Rik says, “Council workers encounter lots of people throughout the community and are in a good position to help. Our staff are now more confident to discuss mental health issues. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do anything about this’ they might instead ask, ‘Are you alright? Shall I call your GP?’. Or they might escalate it to their manager for action, saying, ‘something is not right, what should we do?’”
Staff have many stories about how the training helped them help others – and prevented some serious crises. Sarah, from social care, feared for the safety of a father and his baby on a routine visit. Her MHFA training allowed her to approach this challenging, high risk situation confidently and professionally. She says:
“I was working with a dad who was struggling to cope with a newborn baby, alongside his own precarious mental health and a life-long learning disability. I was able to address how he felt and quickly explore with him what we needed to do next. Together we met his baby’s immediate care needs and waited for mental health crisis care. He calmed in response to me taking control of the situation and wanted to get the medical help he knew he needed.”
Public Health Dorset says the MHFA training has reduced stress levels in the workplace too, with staff starting conversations about how they are feeling. John from HR intervened when a member of staff made a concerning remark, averting a potential suicide.
“I asked her if she was OK and she replied that she was feeling very low,” John explains. “I asked her directly if she was considering harming herself and she admitted she’d been stockpiling some pills at home to take an overdose. She said she’d also contemplated taking her life when she was in her car, earlier. I gave her some links to relevant NHS information, and asked her to speak to her husband and talk to her GP, who she was due to see the next day. I saw the lady with her husband two days later. They both thanked me, saying I’d helped her come out of her low mood enough to see a way forward.”
Rik describes a culture change taking place in the workplace, “We take better care of ourselves and each other. It’s helped people become more self-aware, identify their own vulnerabilities and work out where their stress levels are.
“Staff know what to do when they’re beginning to feel overwhelmed, whether it’s to get some fresh air for 10 minutes, exercise more or spend more time with family. And we’re all more supportive. We talk to our colleagues more and offer help where needed.”
Public Health Dorset and the local councils are so impressed with the evaluation outcomes they hope to integrate mental health training into core skills of staff and managers.
“MHFA is well worth the time and money,” says Rik. “Our experience has shown just half a day out of the office makes a real difference, upskilling the workforce, demystifying mental health and tackling stigma. I’d recommend every local council to introduce it. The workforce needs to know they’re supported with these issues.”