University of Northampton: Mental health first aid

The University of Northampton has highlighted the need to nurture wellbeing and promote the resilience of nursing students. The university’s nursing team was keen to explore how wellbeing and in particular mental health awareness could be explicitly threaded into the nursing curriculum. The nursing team’s focus on mental health and passion to develop an evidence-based and sustainable mental health awareness programme led to a collaboration with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. MHFA England is a social enterprise that delivers specialist training and guidance to support mental wellbeing.

Key actions taken:

  • In 2017/18, the university worked with MHFA England to train 15 of the nursing academic team to become MHFA instructors. The individuals identified were from all fields of pre-registration nursing and included post-registration educators, ensuring an inclusive approach was maintained which would reflect the needs of the student population. Regular peer supervision was also arranged for staff training as MHFA instructors.
  • It created an electronic platform to use as a communications channel where mental health awareness materials were cascaded to students.
  • Face-to-face ‘Tea and Chat’ sessions were held every two months to provide peer support.
  • In 2018 it began to embed the two-day Adult MHFA course into the BSc Nursing curriculum. This is delivered in year 1 to provide all pre-registration students with the opportunity to access the training at the earliest opportunity. The course was also offered to all second year and third year nursing students. The aim of this was to enhance psychological safety and to promote mental health skills acquisition.


To date, the university has trained 760 BSc students and supported the training of university staff and other community services (a further 300 people in the Northampton area). This is a sustainable model which has been embedded within the university curriculum with resources to maintain and share delivery with the wider university community.

Student evaluations of the MHFA training received hugely positive feedback. 98% of students reported feeling confident in speaking about mental health with peers and 90% more confident in talking about their own mental health. The evaluation also found that this training was being used throughout clinical placements and enabled students to have the confidence to access specialist services. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revalidated the university’s nursing programmes in 2018 against future nurse standards. This process provided positive feedback on its wellbeing strategy, including the MHFA training. Nursing students are now active in promoting MHFA resources on campus and at community events.

‘MHFA has given me the confidence and skills to be able to approach people who seem as though they’re in mental health crisis. It’s also given me the knowledge of services I can direct people to. I’ve used MHFA as a student, as a health care assistant and also as a member of the public’.

Nursing student, University of Northampton