Five days into my tenure as Chief Executive at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England I took part in a panel discussion at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), about whole school approaches to mental health. I concluded there is no golden bullet and that a successful whole school approach requires strong leadership, determination, some expertise, a willingness to ‘give it a go’ and learn through doing. It is common sense to me that no one intervention alone can solve the mental health crisis that is increasingly evident within our schools, colleges and workplaces.

Over the past six weeks I have been getting to grips with the evidence base for Mental Health First Aid and other mental health interventions so we can be really clear what we are trying to achieve and make sure we do what we say we will and continue to develop and learn. 

So what do we know?

A whole setting approach is critical to success. We must invest in prevention as well as treatment and support, we must tackle stigma, build knowledge, understanding and skills. And we must continue to test interventions in different settings to understand what works well, in what settings and why. 

So what does MHFA England set out to do? 

MHFA England’s Two Day course sets out to increase a person’s confidence, through knowledge and skills, to assist someone experiencing a mental health issue or crisis and guide them to a place of support.

So do we do it? 

Yes. MHFA Enngland has developed a wealth of evidence globally and in England over the past 10 years. You can read more about the evidence base here.

As with all public health interventions the evidence base for mental health and Mental Health First Aid is evolving so there are many opportunities to gain deeper and more meaningful insights. We are clear we must build our evidence base so we can make our best contribution to improving the mental health of our nation. That is why we are in the process of commissioning research which goes further than any before in determining what impact our training has on the person who receives support from someone skilled in Mental Health First Aid. I am looking forward to the findings.

From reading and talking to people in the know it seems to me that;

  1. All mental health interventions must be values driven - positive about mental health, about wellbeing and about help seeking behaviours.
  2. Leaders, teams and those we are working with MUST have a shared understanding of what they are trying to achieve, how they intend to achieve it and how they will know if they have been successful.
  3. Different interventions will ‘work’ at different times. We need a multitude of interventions that together build literacy, challenge stigma, increase knowledge, develop skills and build confidence to talk, to listen, to ask for, give and receive help. 
  4. We all have a responsibility to monitor, evaluate and learn from our work, and to share findings for the common good 
  5. As individuals and organisations privileged to be working in mental health we each have different lived experiences, strengths, specialisms and expertise. There is so much excellent work being done on limited resource, and so much work that needs to be done that we can and must co-exist successfully making our unique contribution to positive outcomes. 
  6. Across the mental health sector we can - and must - both compete and collaborate as appropriate at different times.

And finally, there isn’t a golden bullet for addressing public mental health. There won’t be a golden bullet. Indeed there doesn’t need to be one.

Whatever intervention each of us are working on, we need to have absolute clarity about our desired outcomes, a willingness to learn, and a culture of creativity and collaboration.