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Developing Mental Health Champions – A blended learning approach

July 5, 2024

Despite rising popularity, there is very little concrete evidence to suggest that mental health first aid (MHFA) is effective in helping individuals with mental illness improve their mental health or receive appropriate treatment or access to services. No study has been able to demonstrate evidence that MHFA serves its intended purpose of helping individuals with mental illness in crisis, whether to connect them with treatment or improve their symptoms.

Mindful of the concerns about MHFA efficacy, our client, a global leader in traditional and renewable energy, wanted to offer additional support to employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges. Whilst a range of corporate resources already existed, they wanted to build in-house expertise, specifically by training and equipping a group of their own employees to become Mental Health Champions (MHCs).

The company’s Global Occupational Health Manager explained the thinking…

“We considered the MHFA approach, recognising it is an interesting course that provides insight into mental ill health and crisis management. Mental Health Champions, however, focuses on prevention, wellbeing and promoting skills to manage mental health daily, in addition to signposting help when someone is struggling. This is a step change in approach to the subject. Mental health is more than illness, it is something to be nurtured and cared for, the same way we do for physical health.“

To this end, they engaged The Keil Centre to design and deliver a programme of learning. Drawing on the expertise of our Chartered Clinical and Occupational Psychologists, the objective was to ensure the learning was evidence-based, integrated, accessible, proportionate, and impactful. The learning material was organised into five modules:

  • ‘What is a Mental Health Champion?’
  • ‘Introduction to Mental Health’
  • ‘Mental Health and Stigma’
  • ‘Supporting Others’
  • ‘Mental Health Promotion’

Employees volunteering to become Mental Health Champions (MHCs) are first introduced to the five-module content by accessing an e-Learning platform. Materials include videos, slides, a personal e-workbook and a short knowledge check. In total, the e-learning content involves around four hours of study, but with the flexibility to dip in and out. The e-Learning content also serves as an ‘aide memoire’ for those who have completed training and want to refresh their knowledge. Following the introductory e-learning, MHC cohorts then attend a one-day interactive workshop, facilitated by a Keil Centre Psychologist. These workshops maintain the five-module structure, but with additional resources included such as tools, tips, techniques and a compendium of activities the MHCs can use in their place of work in support of their peers.

Follow up clinics for each cohort enable the MHCs to exchange ideas from their lived experiences in the role, and to create a pool of interventions that are seen to be having a beneficial impact. The recommendation is that each MHC maintains a ‘learning log’ to record activities; this is both an opportunity for MHCs to reflect on their practice in promoting mental health and something that can be used to evaluate the success of the programme.

Reflecting on the programme, the client commented…

“Participants in the mental health champions programme have reported personal and professional benefits from having attended the training sessions. There has been positive feedback on the quality of course content and the facilitator. The course is delivered online and in person; a hybrid approach allows for knowledge development (online) and time to practice skills (in person). We feel the investment from having the in-person component enhances the experience for our mental health champions. In general, we don’t learn at school how to undertake ‘active listening skills’ or how to have difficult conversations. MHCs training really helps with deep personal development of these skills, which can benefit us at work and in our personal lives.”

By embedding MHCs across different operational areas, the opportunity exists to promote wellbeing and to provide a safe psychological space for employees to raise concerns and feel supported in doing so. It also provides a conduit between the workforce and management, in order that both individual and systematic issues can be addressed and informed wellbeing decisions can be made.

For more information, please email Ken Gray.

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