Mental Health First Aid Ireland reach 10k training milestone

Mental Health First Aid Training Ireland delivered to 10,000 people across Ireland 

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Ireland is marking providing mental health first aid training to 10,000 people across Ireland with information to help people spot the signs of someone in mental health distress.

MHFA is a programme designed to help members of the public, people in workplaces and communities, to provide mental health first aid to someone who may be experiencing mental health distress. The role of a mental health first aider is to assist the person until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves. A first aider does not make a diagnosis of mental illness or provide therapy but helps someone who may be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis following a similar approach that has been successful with conventional first aid.

MHFA Ireland, which is governed and run by Saint John of God Hospital CLG, has spent the last five years endeavouring to bring Mental Health First Aid training to individuals, communities, and workplaces around Ireland. This April, MHFA Ireland is celebrating providing training to 10,000 people across communities and workplaces throughout Ireland, including the VHI, EBS, Irish Defence Forces, Horse Racing Ireland, Bank of Ireland, DAA, Kerry Foods and many more. The continued support of the HSE has also enabled MHFA Ireland in delivering training to many groups and organisations such as Peter McVerry Trust, Travelling Community, Limerick Sports Partnership and many more.

Martin Gillick, MHFA Ireland Manager said “The past 12 months have been some of the most challenging for all our mental health as many of us have found ourselves cut off from family, friends, colleagues and community.   Many people find it tricky to spot signs of mental distress in another person at the best of times, and the fact that many of our interactions with family, friends and colleagues are now through a screen this can make it even more challenging.

“MHFA Ireland training courses teach people to spot the symptoms of mental health issues – both on and offline – and offer initial help and guide a person towards support. We don’t teach people to be therapists, but we do teach people to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis – and even potentially to stop a crisis from happening.”

People who are experiencing a mental health problem, such as depression and anxiety, may exhibit changes in their appearance, body language and their day-to-day behaviour.

Some of the common signs and symptoms include:

  • Being withdrawn, not participating in conversations
  • Irritability, aggression, or tearfulness
  • Indecision, inability to concentrate and have difficulty remembering things.
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of care over their appearance
  • Frequent headaches and stomach upsets
  • Increased sickness absence

Martin Gillick continued “The move to the virtual workplace poses further challenges for employers and managers who may find it more difficult to recognise the signs of an employee with mental health problem. We would recommend, at a minimum, that employers are proactive in noticing the signs of mental health issues. They can do this by taking time to schedule regular contact with colleagues, looking out for any unusual changes in a person’s messaging style and email communication and pay attention if a person has suddenly become less communicative online.”

MHFA Ireland has also established a Youth MHFA training course for individuals working and engaging with young people. Youth MHFA is a training course for adults who work with, live with or care for young people aged between 12 and 18. This evidence-based training programme is particularly suited to parents, guardians, school staff, sports coaches, community group leaders and youth workers.

Lisa Fox, Youth MHFA National Trainer said “A number of studies have found that young people have been particularly impacted by Covid-19.  Their resilience has been tested and, for many young people, they have found the experience of the pandemic to be a challenge across social, educational, vocational and health domains.  Trusted adults in the lives of a young person – parents, family members, teachers, sports coaches, youth workers etc. – can often spot when a young person is struggling with their mental health but may not know how best to offer help.  It is the responsibility of all of us in society to support the mental health of young people and Youth MHFA training is a very empowering and valuable step in that process.”

An important factor in the MHFA Ireland’s success has been the continuing attention to research and evaluation. A 2020 study ‘Evaluating Mental Health First Aid Training in Ireland: A Study of Participants’ Post-training Experience and Helping Behaviour’ investigated the post-training experiences and helping behaviour of 256 MHFA Ireland trainees. The study, undertaken by Dr Janine O’ Gorman in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Limerick (2020) found that 82% of participants reported using their mental health first aid skills post-training and outlined instances of recognising, approaching, and intervening in mental health problems. The study also provided some insights into the factors that both facilitate and hinder the provision of mental health first aid in Ireland. For example, while MHFA Ireland training was overwhelmingly found to improve trainees’ helping behaviour and confidence to provide help, factors such as previous experience, professional role and a supportive environment were identified to facilitate effective helping. In contrast, issues such as stigma and insufficient mental health services to support mental health first aid were cited as helping barriers. These findings speak to the role of social context and wider mental health policy in ensuring the successful implementation of mental health first aid.

Emma Balmaine, CEO of Saint John of God Hospital said “I want to congratulate everyone in MHFA Ireland for reaching the 10K milestone at this critical time for society as we all attempt to navigate living through a pandemic. To undertake MHFA Ireland training shows a real commitment to being there for our family, friends, colleagues, and community.  Much like physical first aid we never know when we will be called on to use these skills, but I am very impressed by the UL study that shows that 82% of those who have trained have deployed their new skills.  I would encourage employers, community leaders, parents and guardians to sign up for the course and be prepared to be there for somebody in need.”

To find out more about MHFA Ireland go to

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