In August, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a rapid scoping review of the existing evidence on the impact, influence and application of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training in workplaces.

The review highlights that there is consistent evidence that MHFA training raises employees’ awareness of common mental health issues and their signs and symptoms. It also identifies that there is a lack of published occupational studies on MHFA, limited evidence on adaptation of MHFA for different workplaces, and suggests there is limited evidence that MHFA training leads to sustained improvement in helping colleagues experiencing mental ill health.

Commenting on the HSE’s review, Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said:

“We are confident that Mental Health First Aid, as a mental health awareness and skills development course, sits on a solid and growing evidence-base – both nationally and internationally. Research consistently shows the Mental Health First Aid course, delivered in 24 countries globally, improves knowledge and confidence in supporting someone experiencing mental ill health, including people in the workplace and wider community.

“We welcome further discussion with the HSE and other agencies on MHFA and other mental health awareness provision in the workplace. Whilst it is accepted that research on workplace wellbeing interventions is at an early stage, MHFA England is committed to addressing gaps in evidence and is currently working with the Centre for Mental Health to commission a research study into the impact of MHFA on the person trained, and the person supported. We are also eagerly awaiting the publication of research findings from a University of Nottingham evaluation into the impact of MHFA in the workplace.”

In addition to existing evidence base reviewed by the HSE, there is also a key study published in PLoS ONE by researchers from the University of Melbourne looking at 18 studies of MHFA, seven of which are based on the implementation MHFA in the workplace. This review supports the effectiveness of MHFA training in improving mental health literacy and appropriate support for those with mental health issues up to six months after training.

The University of Melbourne study’s lead author, Dr. Amy Morgan, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, commented:

“This is the most comprehensive review of Mental Health First Aid training courses currently available. MHFA has a strong evidence-base supporting its effectiveness, which is quite rare for this kind of public health education programme”.

HSE’s report also follows the publication of a review of workplace wellbeing interventions by RAND Europe and Public Health England, which found that MHFA has the second strongest evidence base of 117 workplace wellbeing programmes assessed.

Tricia O’Neil, Head of Occupational Health & Wellbeing and H&S Education and Competence, Skanska UK, offers her view on why MHFA training has been the right choice for her organisation:

“Skanska has used MHFA England as a provider of mental health training for the past two-and-a-half years. It provides our employees with the fundamentals of common mental health issues and the most likely conditions that our mental health ambassadors will be faced with in the workplace. It also begins to build their confidence to start a conversation with others who may be struggling. We have had nearly 1000 people attend this course and, when our senior leaders attend, they invariably come back and encourage their teams to sign up for the next course – a testament to the value of the course – it resonates with so many people here in Skanska.

“Our approach has been to provide people with advice and support, as well as equip them with the tools and knowledge to support colleagues. MHFA is key to helping us achieve our goal of helping people see the connection between good mental health and a successful business.”

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

“Mental Health First Aid holds significant promise for building greater understanding about mental health in organisations. It can help people to support colleagues and friends through difficult times in their lives, and has the potential to create healthier and more productive workplaces. Like any training intervention, understanding how and in what circumstances it is most effective is a challenge. That is why we need robust research to test out how to make MHFA as effective as possible and to ensure policies are informed by evidence of what works.”

Employer experiences of Mental Health First Aid are well documented in a large number of case studies from organisations in a range of industries. MHFA England’s Workplace Wellbeing toolkit also provides guidance on measuring impact to support employers to track the effects of their wellbeing strategies, many of which include Mental Health First Aid.

Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, commented:

“MHFA England works with hundreds of organisations who are adopting Mental Health First Aid training as part of their overall approach to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The overriding message from these employers is that having staff more aware about mental health and skilled to support others, creates mentally healthy working environments. Large employers, including Unilever, Deloitte, EY, Mace, Lendlease, Ford, WHSmith, Skanska, Civil Service, Public Health England and NHS England are all choosing to train staff in Mental Health First Aid because they can see the positive impact it has within their organisations.” 

Read the HSE’s rapid scoping review in full here.