"By providing Mental Health First Aid England training to undergraduate nursing students across all disciplines we hope to enhance approaches to early intervention within the profession and equip our students to better support the communities they will be working in."

Started MHFA training
October 2018

Trained to date

The University of Northampton’s (UoN) Faculty of Health and Society (FHS) has embarked on an ambitious new programme of mental health training. Since 2018 the faculty has worked with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England to ensure its training is a core part of all undergraduate nursing courses.

Why we started MHFA England training

The project grew out of UoN’s desire to develop their undergraduate mental health nursing provision through the synthesis of national mental health policies such as ‘No health without mental health’ and the Mental Health Taskforce's ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’, alongside their internal university strategy, which includes three core elements; ‘supportive’, ‘future focused’ and ‘social impact’. UoN’s conclusions were that it needed to focus on developing its student nurse’s abilities to actively promote mental health as a positive concept to the public and to promote earlier intervention to support people in their surrounding communities experiencing mental ill health.

As part of this, the university sponsored two senior lecturers in mental health nursing, Francis Beckett and Emma Dillon, to become qualified MHFA England instructors. Having completed the training, it became quickly apparent that the course could be used as part of a more ambitious strategy that the faculty's team were confident could have a significant impact across all disciplines of nursing.

This strategy also coincided with the consultations and consequent publication of the New Nursing Standards of Proficiency for Registered Nurses, implemented from February 2019. Amongst other developments, it puts a greater weight and emphasis on competence for all nurses in mental health care.

Following their training, Francis and Emma put together a business case to train 12 more lecturers from the nursing faculty with the aim of creating an MHFA England instructor team to educate all undergraduate nursing students in their first year of education. This team would support the training of over 300 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders) each year, with the programme going live from October 2018.

Dr Steve O’Brien, Dean of the faculty and Donna Bray, Head of Nursing, gave the project their full support, backing the business case and two members of MHFA England’s National Training team then delivered a bespoke programme of instructor training at Northampton University over June and early July, 2018.


The faculty now has a team of 14 MHFA England instructors, and their impact has already been felt across the universities’ nursing community, as well as with partner organisations. Mental health is now the top topic of conversation and the faculty's team has already had a number of requests to put on MHFA England training across the wider community in Northamptonshire. Their first outside course was delivered to their Student Union (SU) staff and sabbatical officers who have always been strong supporters of the mental health agenda at Northampton. They have since delivered MHFA England courses to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), local service user groups and local NHS partners.

Emma Dillon, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing and MHFA England instructor, said:

“By providing Mental Health First Aid England training to undergraduate nursing students across all disciplines we hope to enhance approaches to early intervention within the profession and equip our students to better support the communities they will be working in.”

Plans for 2019 include setting up a Social Enterprise and Change Maker project to offer MHFA England training to other faculties within UoN and to the local community. Currently 32 Adult MHFA Two Day courses are scheduled to take place in 2019 for FHS students, SU staff and UoN staff, with local businesses also having expressed interest.

The faculty's newly qualified group of MHFA England instructors are also working closely with the university’s Human Resources team to develop its MHFA network within the campus community, enhance supervision offered to its MHFAiders, and even put on an MHFA conference.

So far Francis and Emma have facilitated courses for approximately 100 students, 12 SU staff members and 16 RCN staff members - and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. MHFA England training is helping the university to promote greater understanding of mental health as a concept, as well as helping its staff and students to practically manage their own mental health and have confidence in their skills to approach, assess and assist others when they are experiencing mental ill health. Its staff and students have gained a strong sense of the need to engage their own communities in discussions around mental health and are now advocates for including MHFA in any environment where physical first aid skills would also be considered a necessity.

Francis Beckett, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing and MHFA instructor, said:

“Mental Health First Aid training is helping our faculty to create a new generation of nurses attuned to both the mental and physical health of those they come into contact with. From patients to those they work with in community settings, nurses are on the frontline supporting people in all kinds of circumstances who may be vulnerable to experiencing mental ill health. It’s therefore crucial that they are given adequate training from the outset to know how to spot early warning signs of mental ill health, to provide support on a first aid basis, and also to understand how to support their own mental health.”

What the future holds

Looking ahead, Northampton University will continue to train MHFAiders every year, now that MHFA England training is incorporated into 2019’s BSc nursing curriculum for. It’s hoped that, over time and thanks to this approach, MHFAiders will be available in every health care provider in Northampton as well as every street and community where a current or former nursing student happens to find themselves as they go about their lives.