Mental illness accounts for about 30% of disability claims at Western, making it an important issue in the school’s quest to provide a safe and secure environment for the almost 40,000 faculty, support staff and students in its community. This is why the university implemented the mental health first aid (MHFA) training program, which teaches people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.

“We want bright, healthy, engaged employees,” explains Louise Koza, director, HR, with Western University in London, Ontario.

MHFA was developed and introduced by Professors Anthony Jorm and Betty Kitchener from the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in 2001. MHFA Canada came under the leadership of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) in February 2010.

In total, Western has seven certified trainers, many with a clinical background. Since 2008, these trainers have taught 220 administrative staff and leaders (10% of full-time staff). The program is a two and a half day first aid training program complemented by an additional half-day on mental health support services at Western.

For a minimal investment of approximately $30 per participant and about $2,000 per trainer, per year in time, the payoff to Western is significant. Anecdotally, the school has seen earlier referrals to rehabilitative services, more compassionate leaders who are more willing to accommodate return to work programs and greater success for those on leave for a mental illness to return to work.

“There has been a change in the understanding of mental illness,” says Koza. “Our goal now is to get as many people as possible trained.”