How can the sector better support mental health recovery?
Supporting jobseekers who are experiencing poor mental health is nothing new to the sector, but we are definitely seeing a shift to a more proactive service, joining up with talking therapies and bringing mental health wellbeing into our conversations more often. But how well equipped are we to support our customers? Kevin Moore, the Chief Executive of Future Path, has spent the last year training over 200 frontline staff and Managers from DWP, Local Authorities and Providers. He has delivered both the full 2-day Mental Health First Aid programme, and the half-day “Lite” version.
“I think we all know that mental ill health is a heavily stigmatised subject area. Every time that I’ve delivered a course, I’ve seen participants looking uncomfortable at the thought of initialising conversations about how someone is feeling, and that’s especially the case when we talk of thoughts of suicide. But when you consider that unemployment is a huge risk factor for mental ill health, it’s an area that we really need to confront head-on.
After all, the statistics suggest that someone is 4-10 times more likely to suffer mental ill health after just three months of unemployment. Add into that the World Health Organisation statistic that one in five suicides worldwide is linked to unemployment and we can see the urgent need to be able to support jobseekers in crisis.
So…what is our sector’s role in all of this?
The first concept that we need to accept is that our service doesn’t exist in isolation to someone’s recovery – it is a central part of it. Mental illness isn’t “cured” – recovery is about building a fulfilling life that is compatible with our mental health, and the right job can be a huge factor in enabling this. But, of course, the wrong job can make the situation a lot worse.
Work & Health Programme bidders are currently assembling their models, which will inevitably include strong links to, and possibly co-location with, IAPT services. But that arrangement will be severely hampered if our staff aren’t confident in having “that” conversation – and this is where Mental Health First Aid is so relevant.
So far, we have trained 193 staff to be fully fledged Mental Health First Aiders – they have spent 2 days with us, learning about different disorders, the risk factors, signs and symptoms – but most importantly, they’ve also learnt how to help someone in crisis. Feedback from the courses has universally shown a significant increase in learners’ mental health knowledge and, critically, their confidence in being able to support someone in need. In our opinion, what we now need to do is get every frontline Adviser through this vital training. The Prime Minister is introducing it in secondary schools, and the Conservative manifesto commits to primary schools and large employers too (finally putting the training on a par with physical first aid), so why wouldn’t we want it in our sector, a sector that deals with people at high risk?
And what about the wellbeing of those frontline Advisers? When you support people in distress on a day-to-day basis, you personally become very high risk of developing depression and/or anxiety. So how are we, as a sector, ensuring the emotional stability and resilience of our staff?
Mental Health First Aid is not the definitive solution – what 2-day intervention could be? But it’s a great starting point. Take, for example, the half-day course that Future Path delivered last week, in partnership with the IEP and ERSA, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Sixteen participants arrived at the venue, representing a really diverse cross-section of our profession. We had frontline Advisers sat with Operational Managers, Senior Managers/Business Owners sat with Psychologists. We only had 4 hours together, and the group clearly included some learners who weren’t new to the subject area. Yet the feedback that we received showed just how effective an established and focussed training session can be, even if it is just for half a day.
In looking at the evaluations, we can see the benefit. Learners were asked “On a scale of 1 - 10 please score your personal confidence of how best to support others with a mental health problem before and after the course”. The group averaged out at 5.9/10 before the course, and 8.2 after. That’s a significant increase just 4 hours after entering the room – and yes, even the Psychologists reported an improvement!
The course feedback was fantastic, including quotes such as:
- “I learnt much more about different types of mental health conditions and what they each feature, plus how to recognise them”
- “It drives the importance of being able to recognise the symptoms with our customer base – I’d be keen to roll this out as part of Adviser development to create an awareness”
- “I wish Healthcare professionals decades ago were trained to this level of knowledge”
You can imagine what feedback we get from the full 2-day version. Several DWP Work Coaches have stated that this should be compulsory training for all staff, and we have had organisations requesting in-house training after an individual Learner has returned to their workplace, speaking about the practical support that they can now give.
But the best example I can give is in Barnet, North London. There, we have trained over 60 frontline staff and Managers to be fully fledged Mental Health First Aiders and the effect is more than just sixty-odd people being able to provide support. It has brought a common ground between different organisations (DWP, the local authority, the housing ALMO and providers). Conversations now happen between these services that focus on a person’s wellbeing, not just that organisation’s services. People can now discuss stress vulnerability, emerging risk factors, deteriorating symptoms and what support they can arrange. And crucially, it has also enabled staff to discuss mental illness with Health professionals at a level that just wouldn’t have happened before. If that leads to just a 5% improvement in a person’s recovery, then the course is wholly justified.
So….what next for our sector? I’d really encourage all Providers to have a thorough look at the Mental Health First Aid course. It has to be delivered by an authorised Instructor, but MHFA England run frequent courses to enable this. What’s crucial for me is that we introduce MHFA by default – whether that’s by using a company like Future Path, or upskilling your own workforce to be able to deliver it internally.”
Kevin Moore FIEP