A Mental Health First Aid course has been developed which trains members of the public in how to give initial help in mental health crisis situations and to support people developing mental health problems. This course has previously been evaluated in a randomized controlled trial in a workplace setting and found to produce a number of positive effects. However, this was an efficacy trial under relatively ideal conditions. Here we report the results of an effectiveness trial in which the course is given under more typical conditions.
The course was taught to members of the public in a large rural area in Australia by staff of an area health service. The 16 Local Government Areas that made up the area were grouped into pairs matched for size, geography and socio-economic level. One of each Local Government Area pair was randomised to receive immediate training while one served as a wait-list control. There were 753 participants in the trial: 416 in the 8 trained areas and 337 in the 8 control areas. Outcomes measured before the course started and 4 months after it ended were knowledge of mental disorders, confidence in providing help, actual help provided, and social distance towards people with mental disorders. The data were analysed taking account of the clustered design and using an intention-to-treat approach.
Training was found to produce significantly greater recognition of the disorders, increased agreement with health professionals about which interventions are likely to be helpful, decreased social distance, increased confidence in providing help to others, and an increase in help actually provided. There was no change in the number of people with mental health problems that trainees had contact with nor in the percentage advising someone to seek professional help.
Mental Health First Aid training produces positive changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviour when the course is given to members of the public by instructors from the local health service.