Started MHFA training
Staff trained so far
Wellcome is the world’s largest medical research charity. It funds global research to drive reform and advance ideas with the aim to improve health for everyone. The charity employs 800 staff excluding sub-contractors at its office in Euston, London.
The nature of the charity’s work means it takes its wellbeing initiatives seriously and is wholly committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of its staff. One way in which it is demonstrating this commitment is through training staff in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Natasha Gordon, Project Manager in People and Places at Wellcome explains: “I attended an MHFA course in a previous role, so when I joined Wellcome, I volunteered to lead on co-ordinating the same training for staff at my new place of work. It is important that Wellcome, which has a number of external facing mental health research funding initiatives, is committed to the same ethos internally.”
MHFA training is part of a broader strategy for wellbeing at Wellcome, with particular focus on prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. While the commitment to MHFA comes from the top with the majority of the Senior Leadership Team having attended the courses, training opportunities are open to everyone, whatever their role. Natasha explains: “We ask those who would like training to register their interest on our intranet page. Capacity is regularly reached quickly which means we always have a waiting list.”
She continues: “All employees at Wellcome are given the opportunity to attend MHFA training sessions. We have found managers are keen to have the tools which enable them to start a meaningful conversation around mental health with their staff. Generally middle management can be more difficult to get buy-in from with this type of initiative, so their interest in learning the tools is great progress.”
The results of conversations people have with their Mental Health First Aider colleagues are logged confidentially with details of what signposting was given. Natasha explains: “This way we can see if there are any common denominating factors like high levels of anxiety in specific teams, or employees seeking support from multiple Mental Health First Aiders which we can act on as an employer.”
“We don’t have a cap on how many employees are trained in MHFA. So far we have matched the number of physical first aiders... many of our physical first aiders are also Mental Health First Aiders.”
After successfully piloting MHFA training in September 2015, the organisation has gone on to train 278 staff members. “We don’t have a cap on how many employees are trained in MHFA. We have matched the number of physical first aiders very soon after we launched and have continued to grow even with staff departures,” says Natasha. “Many of our physical first aiders are also Mental Health First Aiders.”
Wellcome’s commitment to rolling out MHFA training is apparent at every level of the business. While the training is not compulsory, Wellcome strongly advises HR colleagues and business partners to take part in the training, and this extends to its subcontractors. Support staff play a role too, with Mental Health First Aiders on staff at the onsite gym which is run by an external provider. The security team employed directly by Wellcome are also trained in MHFA with at least one security guard on duty at all times.
Since starting MHFA training in 2015, Wellcome’s MHFA Network have hosted a wide range of events for all staff, including hosting SANEline’s Black Dog campaign, holding annual Mental Health Awareness Week and Time to Talk Day celebrations all of which have helped them to continue to reduce stigma. In October 2017, Wellcome signed the Time to Change Organisational Pledge to mark World Mental Health Day and their continued commitment to supporting employee mental health.
“What’s felt like the biggest achievement so far,” says Natasha, “was kick started during Mental Health Awareness week in May 2017 by enabling members of staff from across the organisation to share their own personal experiences of mental ill health. In March I put a call out to the Network for anyone wishing to tell their own mental health story and several people came forward. In May, our first speaker stood in front of a packed staff meeting to describe his experience of anxiety and depression. The surprise of such a seemingly positive, optimistic and well-known member of Wellcome having experienced poor mental health really boosted our work around stigma and understanding.
"Since then we have had another personal story speaker with several coming forward offering to share their own. Several written accounts have been shared on our intranet and these have been the most read articles in the intranet’s history, with colleagues from across the organisation supporting one another.”
In April 2018, Wellcome launched the Mental Health Ambassadors Network, focussing on identifying proactive methods for lessening the impacts of workplace pressures and preventing mental ill health. May saw the announcement of a partnership with Frazzled Cafe and MHFA England. With both of these initiatives being developed, more MHFA courses booked and a robust wellbeing strategy being drawn up, the charity’s enthusiasm for supporting employee mental health shows no sign of slowing.