There are currently 25 Exemplar MHFAs in place across the UK, acting as points of contact for all colleagues who may experience wellbeing issues. The MHFA team act as local points of contact and can refer colleagues to their appropriate local community support. Although this may seem like a small step, we have already seen over 100 cases within the last six months where mental health first aid was provided.

Many MHFA colleagues do not have prior experience in handling issues around mental health. Therefore, we made a conscious decision to keep initial training courses streamlined but as engaging as possible. Keeping the training course accessible to all colleagues has meant a strong take-up, enabling us to have a MHFA in every home or a short distance away. Future programmes aimed at developing specific skills are currently in development - for example, mental health awareness, Huntington’s disease and dementia care training.

During all training, we focus on the concept that the service user, when possible, can direct their own recovery. All our Exemplar colleagues are very aware that they ideally should act as part of a wider circle of multi-disciplinary workers and having a good awareness of wellbeing plays a key part in this process.

The more confidence colleagues have in understanding the complexities of mental health, the more empathy they will be able to express with service users with mental health issues.

Despite this training programme only being in place since March 2019, we have already had some incredibly positive responses. One such example has been of a service user with a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease who was felt, at the time, to possibly lack capacity to engage with all aspects of their care.

This case was referred to our Behaviour Support team and a complete review was carried out, pooling shared expertise throughout the network in Huntington’s disease, the Mental Capacity Act and Best Interest Decisions. This included one- to-one sessions between the service user and our in-house mental health professionals, ultimately leading to the service user regaining their confidence to continue to make decisions with support from care colleagues. As well as the service user regaining a degree of autonomy, colleagues at the home also gained confidence in identifying similar problems for other service users.

Changes across the industry may seem gradual from an external perspective. However, these carefully-measured improvements to how we upskill and deliver care is already returning real results. Mental health training is likely to continue as a key part of social care’s future.

Our team will continue to look at developing further training modules and increasing the number of MHFAs throughout our homes over the coming months. - 29 -

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