Mental health first aid in the workplace – is it working?

11 May 2017 12:28:47.433


One in three UK adults of working age are likely to be experiencing a mental health problem. So how do we identify those most in need of help and provide support before it results in long-term sickness absence or even so-called ‘presenteeism’, where people turn up for work but may not be able to function as effectively? 

Researchers at the University of Nottingham are using Mental Health Awareness Week to shine a light on the issue of mental health in the workplace – and to launch a new study aimed at finding out whether an international initiative to tackle it is actually making a difference. 

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) provides training designed to equip people with the skills to recognise and respond to the signs and symptoms of mental health problems or crises. Many UK employers have paid for staff to undertake training in MHFA to assist in the management and support of colleagues with mental health problems. 

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However, no studies have yet looked at the real impact of MHFA in the workplace and Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace (MENTOR) project is hoping to address this gap in knowledge. 

Leading the project is Avril Drummond, Professor of Healthcare Research in the University’s School of Health Sciences

Professor Drummond said: “This year, Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on why too few people are thriving with good mental health. For people in work, maintaining good mental health is beneficial for both the individual and the organisation. Mental Health First Aid training in the workplace may help people to thrive by enabling them to balance work responsibilities with managing their mental health needs. 

“However, there is little research evidence to support this. The MENTOR study aims to find out the impact of having MHFA-trained individuals in the workplace, identifying what works, why and how. This month marks the start of the research and we are looking forward to taking this important first step in evaluating the topic.” 

Mental illness costs the UK economy between £70bn and £100bn a year and is a leading cause of sickness absence, with 15.8 million working days lost in 2016 alone. Increasing people’s awareness of mental health, reducing stigma and promoting and improving access to support at an early stage are recognised strategies for improving and maintaining mental health in the workplace. 

The 10-month university study will use a range of different methods to assess whether MHFA is effective. A survey of organisations where at least one member has attended MHFA training, provided by MHFA England, will be carried out, along with interviews with key individuals from a range of workplaces. 

The researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at the Institute of Mental Health will be producing a set of case studies to show how MHFA is currently being put in place in different workplaces, and recommendations will be made around the content and delivery of MHFA in the workplace. 

The launch of the study coincides with the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is running from the 8th to the 14thMay and which focuses on the theme of ‘Surviving or Thriving’ in a bid to encourage dialogue around why too few people are thriving with good mental health. 

The MENTOR team are keen to connect with MHFA instructors who provide training to organisations, and employees who have been trained in MHFA.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Dr Melanie Narayanasamy, Research Fellow for the MENTOR project in the School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham by email at 

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