We have been privileged over the last years to have worked with a number of organisations to train networks of Mental Health First Aiders (the two day course licensed by MHFA England) and Mental Health Champions (the one day course). We have gone on to refresh that training in different ways with a number of organisations and it has been humbling to hear of the support people have provided to their colleagues; changing lives and sometimes saving them.

Unlike physical first aid, there is no statutory framework around the provision of mental health first aid, notwithstanding the fact that in many of our workplaces it is our mental health, rather than our physical health, that is most in need of protection and support. Last year MHFA England introduced a half day refresher course together with guidance that recommended both first aiders and champions undertake that refresher course each year, and repeat their full training every three years. That was a welcome and long overdue addition to the MHFA portfolio of training and we are pleased to be able to offer that alongside our more bespoke offerings to support first aiders and champions in what can often be demanding roles.

MHFA England have now watered down their guidance to suggest that first aiders and champions need only think about doing the half day refresher training every three years. Our view is that this is a retrograde step. HSE guidance for physical first aid states that first aider certificates last for three years only and that refresher training should be undertaken annually. We see no reason why the MHFA England guidance for mental health first aid should be less than this – you are more likely to come across someone having suicidal thoughts than you are to come across someone having a heart attack.

There are no regulations or rules around mental health first aid and to some extent individual organisations, and their first aiders and champions, should take decisions based on their own needs and feelings of competence and confidence in their roles – someone who is using their skills on a regular basis may feel less of a need of refreshment than someone who only does so occasionally. At the same time, someone else who is using their skills regularly may feel a refresher is more important because of that fact.

We would encourage all organisations to engage with their first aiders and champions on a regular basis to discuss how their role is working, the supports they feel they need, any need they may have for refresher/additional training and the benefit of getting the group together on a regular basis to share learning and support each other. We can provide bespoke support to your champions and first aiders in their vital roles, based around our own experience and expertise and also drawing on that of other professionals in the field. As well as facilitating MHFA England training material we design our own bespoke learning, both face to face and on line. If you are interested in finding out more then please get in touch at richard.martin@byrnedean.com